Ma Ward’s Sweet Potato Casserole

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Sometimes a co-worker will come into your life and remain in your heart always.  That is what happened to me when I started working at “The Law Office of John Wesley Ward, Jr.”. In 1991, I started working for John Wesley Ward, a family law attorney, in Hampton, Virginia.  John was a sole practitioner specializing in family law.  I was a paralegal for John and his mother, Selma T. Ward, was his office manager, accountant, bookkeeper, and so many other things. 

At first, honestly, I was not sure how it was going to be working for and with Selma Ward.  She was old school.  You were to be to work on time, you were accountable for your actions, you were to work and not waste time, you were to wear dresses as pants were not allowed (although that rule changed over the years), and you were expected to perform.  You know all those things you should be doing when you are working for an employer.  I mean she was serious business.  That was until I actually became to know the real southern lady – “Ma Ward”.

Where do I begin with telling you about Selma Trogdon Ward lovingly known as “Ma Ward”?  Ma Ward was initially my boss but became so much more.  She was a mentor, a confidant, a second mother, a grandmother to my children and one of my best friends.

Ma Ward taught me so much about cooking, hosting, entertaining, proper etiquette and oh we can’t forget how to set a proper table.  To say Ma Ward could cook would be an understatement.  She had a recipe for everything, more cookbooks than you can count and owned more crystal, china, and dinnerware than any person I have ever known.  She loved to cook and loved to entertain.  She was the ideal picture of a southern hostess and setting a beautiful table was her specialty.

Although Ma Ward taught me so much about cooking and entertaining, she truly taught me the meaning of true love.  Ma Ward was married to John Wesley Ward, Sr. lovingly known as “Pa Ward” for 55 very happy years.  Pa Ward was Ma Ward’s true love.  He had a smile so big and his love for people showed with everyone he met.  He also had a very bald head and was so proud of it.  Ma Ward loved her husband and her son with her entire heart.  They were her world, and she was not afraid to let you know it.  All you had to do was ask her.  Pa Ward was Ma Ward’s whole world and when he passed away, I just knew she would never be able to make it without him.  But oh no – not Ma Ward.  She was such a strong woman that she kept on going even with a broken heart.  She continued to work, she learned how to pump gas (she never had to pump gas before because Pa Ward always did it for her), she learned to live by herself which was so hard for her, and she continued to be such a loving southern lady.

After Ma Ward’s social entertaining slowed down somewhat, she gave me her set of Avon Cape Cod Ruby dishes which included over 16 place settings with dinner plates, salad bowls, dessert plates, coffee mugs, goblets, salt and pepper shakers and every other thing that Avon sold with that set of dishes.  She loved those dishes so much and Pa Ward loved to indulge her.  Ma Ward giving me those dishes meant so much to me.  To know that she trusted me with this set of absolute beauty dishes was such an honor.  To this day, I honestly believe they make the most beautiful Christmas table setting that I have ever seen. 

Ma Ward passed away on September 26, 2017 at the age of 91 years of age (19 years after her husband) who she loved until the day she died.  Just to think about Ma Ward and what she meant to me over the years brings a smile to my face and a tug in my heart as I miss her so much.  I will never forget all the things she taught me and shared with me over the years.  For example, nothing is more important than the time that you spend with her children.  If you are cleaning house and the kids want to go see a movie take them.  If paperwork needs to be done and the kids want to go to the zoo, then go to the zoo.  No one will ever remember your house being dirty or your paperwork being undone but the memories you share with your children will last a lifetime. 

She also taught me to love your husband unconditionally.  After my husband passed way after being married to him for 32 years, I honestly understood the loss that Ma Ward experienced, and she consoled and cried with me many a time.  

On a lighter note, another thing that Ma Ward taught me (that her mother taught her) was to make sure you pull up your bottoms before you flushed the toilet because if the toilet runs over you don’t want to run out exposed.  To this day I remember that when I flush. 

I am sharing Ma Ward’s Sweet Potato Casserole because it was one of my favorites.  She made so many good things including the best pecan pie you ever put in your mouth. She was such a wonderful cook and made so many great things it was hard to pick just one. 

Ma Ward will always hold such a big part of my heart.  I am not sure if she knew how much she really meant to me and how much she taught me over the years, but I sure hope she did. I will always remember her loving spirit, her generous heart, and her true devotion to her family.  Ma Ward I truly miss you and hope you are able to look down from above and see that I am trying to make you proud by carrying on your traditions.

Ma Ward’s Sweet Potato Casserole

Recipe by Cooking with Aunt PamCourse: SidesCuisine: SouthernDifficulty: Easy


Prep time


Cooking time




  • 3 cups of sweet potatoes (cooked and mashed) (3-4 potatoes)

  • 1 cup of sugar

  • 1/2 cup melted butter

  • 2 eggs – well beaten

  • 1/3 cup milk

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

  • Topping:
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

  • 1/4 cup flour

  • 3 tablespoons melted butter

  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

  • 1 cup of mini marshmallows (optional).


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a bowl or blender, beat eggs, add sugar, potatoes, butter, milk, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla.
  • Pour into a 2 quart greased casserole dish.
  • Topping:
  • Mix together brown sugar, flour, butter and chopped pecans and sprinkle over potatoes.
  • Bake for 25 -30 minutes. If you would like to like to add marshmallows layer mini marshmallows on the top of casserole and bake an additional 5 minutes.


  • This recipe calls for 3 cups of cooked sweet potatoes. I boil my sweet potatoes whole. Boil until soft about 20 minutes. When you take them out of the water the skins will literally fall off.

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