A Mad Men Thanksgiving: How Sweet It Is

It’s Thanksgiving Day 1964 and Don Draper and his ex-wife Betty, now Mrs. Henry Francis, are spending the day in very different ways. (Season 4, Episode 1, “Public Relations.”) Betty and the Draper children, Sally and Bobby, are at a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with the Francis family. Don is in his dark Greenwich Village apartment with a call girl who doesn’t have much time: she, too, has to make Thanksgiving dinner with her family. No scene in Mad Men captures Don’s essential loneliness more tragically.

The Thanksgiving table at Henry’s mother’s home is covered with fine linens and elegant A Mad Men Thanksgiving: How Sweet It Is glassware. Everyone is formally dressed. When Henry’s dour, heavy set mother observes that Sally hasn’t eaten anything, she responds with the candor of a child and says she doesn’t like the food, much to Betty’s embarrassment.

“How about sweet potato?” offers Betty, eager to cover for Sally’s breach of etiquette.

“I’m not hungry,” pouts Sally. We sense she is still smarting from her parents’ divorce and isn’t happy to be spending the holiday with a lot of people she doesn’t know.

“Look, there’s marshmallow,” says Betty, nearly forcing Sally to take a bite, which she promptly spits out.

A Thanksgiving dish widely associate with the 1960s is “candied sweets,” a casserole made with sweet potatoes, brown sugar, butter and topped with marshmallow. (You can also use yams; contrary to popular belief yam is not just another word for sweet potato, it’s another root vegetable altogether.) So sweet it could be a dessert, candied sweet potatoes have been a popular winter dish in the south for generations, and a year-round soul food staple. Though marshmallows are one of the earliest confections known to man, dating to ancient Greece and Rome, they weren’t mass-produced until the turn of the 20th century. The earliest recipes for combining them with sweet potatoes date to the 1920s.

The candied sweets on the Francis Thanksgiving table in 1964 could well have come from The Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (Meredith, 1962), published just two years earlier. Chances are you’re going to be having pie for Thanksgiving dessert so we recommend these as a side anyone with a sweet tooth will enjoy.

Candied Sweets

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

6 servings

 A Mad Men Thanksgiving: How Sweet It Is

Candied sweets from the Mad Men era -- a casserole made with sweet potatoes, brown sugar, butter and topped with marshmallows. From The Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (Meredith, 1962).


  • 6 medium sweet potatoes ,cooked and peeled
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • ½ cup mini-marshmallows


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 1 ½ quart casserole. Cut sweet potatoes into ½ inch slices. Place a layer in the bottom of casserole.
  2. Sprinkle with brown sugar and slat; dot with butter. Continue layering until all ingredients are used, ending with butter and sugar.
  3. Bake uncovered about 30 minutes, or until glazed. Add marshmallows and bake 5 more minutes, to melt (marshmallows should be lightly browned).
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