TRACI HILTON: Cooking in Nashville since 2008

Dirty Page: Sweet Potato Soufflé II

photo: Andrea Behrends

photo: Andrea Behrends

Traci Hilton calls Pines and Plantations: Native Recipes of Thomasville Georgia “the cookbook bible” of her hometown. “I think the first issue came out in the ’70s—a local charity asked the good women of Thomasville for all of the recipes,” she says. “Every girl I know has one.”

Though Traci has her own copy, it sits pristine on a shelf—she cooks from her grandmother Geneva Bond’s copy. “My dad and stepmom gave me this maybe a year after she passed away.”

The now-browning pages of Geneva’s book flop open to the Sweet Potato Soufflé II recipe—thanks to a handwritten card tucked in the pages from Traci’s stepmom asking her to pass the book along one day. Beside the recipe, a note in pencil reads “good.” Geneva Bond was judicious with her praise. “There is no other ‘good’ in the book,’” says Traci. The recipe has become a fiercely held Thanksgiving tradition. “I’m 35 years old and I can’t remember a Thanksgiving where we didn’t have it. Even when my parents got divorced and we had two holiday dinners, both of them made the sweet potato soufflé, kind of in competition—like, who’s going to make it better?”

Calling for a stick of butter, condensed milk and a cup of brown sugar, Traci calls it “the most unhealthy Thanksgiving dish on the planet.” “It’s like I conjure her up when I use it. So when I make my collards on New Year’s Day, it’s like Geneva’s there, saying, ‘Use less water, don’t drown ‘em!’”

Cindy Wall