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Looking to spread some Thanksgiving cheer? We at the Oxford Observer want to know your Thanksgiving traditions and recipes. We would love to share something special that you and your family do every year, traditions you associate with these different memories, or recipes that have been passed down in your family on our website. We will publish these next Friday, Nov. 16, so they are out for viewing before Thanksgiving, in case people are looking to incorporate new recipes into their Thanksgiving dinner. Feel like sharing? You can email these traditions, short stories, and recipes to us at [email protected].

Here is a recipe for “Sweet Potatoes Cayanna” from our editor, David Wells!

Sweet Potatoes Cayanna

This is a recipe I cribbed from a Thanksgiving cooking show about 15 years ago, and with a few minor modifications, I’ve served it at every holiday dinner ever since.

It was originally called Sweet Potatoes Anna, which some people make with regular potatoes. Some people also use nutmeg instead of cayenne pepper, but I prefer the zing of the cayenne as a balance to the sweetness of the potatoes.  Besides, I have no idea who Anna was and I thought Cayanna sounded pretty clever the first time I passed this on.

It’s also a rebellion against the disgusting practice of topping sweet potatoes with the cloying sweetness of molten baby marshmallows. C’mon folks, if you want to make s’mores, do it when sitting around a campfire.

I usually make at least a double recipe because I get a lot of requests from people who want to take it home with the leftover turkey.


Three medium sweet potatoes, peeled

One medium onion

One to one-and-a-half cups of grated parmesan cheese

One quarter tsp. cayenne pepper (more if you like it hotter, but be careful. One quarter tsp. gives you zing without being eye-watering).

One half-stick of butter


Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

Melt the butter in the microwave.

Lightly grease a round cake pan—a springform pan works well, as do the kind with the rotary scraper attached to the bottom of the pan.

Slice the sweet potatoes into rounds about 1/8 inch thick. You can do this with a food processor, but it doesn’t take long and is a lot less clean-up if you just use a sharp knife. Put the slices in a bowl of cold water to keep them from turning black.

Grate the parmesan cheese. If you already have the food processor out, use it for this too.

Chop the onion (see note about the food processor).

Mix cayenne pepper into the melted butter.

Layer sweet potato slices in a spiral from the center of the pan outward.

Sprinkle a few tablespoons of chopped onions on the sweet potatoes.

Sprinkle a third of the cheese over the onions.

Spoon a tablespoon or so of the cayenne/butter over the cheese.

Repeat the layering process until you use everything up. You should get about three layers of everything, ending with the cheese, butter, cayenne.

Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes.

Remove foil and bake another 15-20 minutes to let the top crisp up.

Use a toothpick to make sure the potatoes are done all the way through the center.

Either remove the rim from a springform pan or invert a regular cake pan onto a plate or platter and cut into wedges for easy serving. The melted cheese holds it all together.

For bigger crowds, I have done this in a large rectangular or oval baking dish. In that case, just cut into squares or serve from the dish.

You can also cook this longer at a lower temperature if you have oven space issues and have to stick it in there at the same time as the turkey. Just don’t take the foil off too soon.