Repeat customers of the Stono Market and its Tomato Shed Cafe on Johns Island quickly realize the family feeling of the homey place is real, not imagined.

There's Mom, Babs Ambrose, behind the register or in the office, daughter Barbara doing a bit of everything, and Dad and farmer Pete Ambrose stopping in frequently with deliveries from their farm on Wadmalaw Island.

Babs says that perhaps half of the recipes on the popular cafe's menu are used by her family or have been inspired by the family meals.

“At our home, we love to experiment. And lucky for us, so do our chefs, Dave Barnett and Kenny Veasel. Pete grows so many different veggies, there's always some experimenting going on.”

But she also gives much of the credit to Mazie Belser, a business partner and friend. Babs says she was a major influence in the start of the cafe in the 1990s and a number of their best-known recipes belonged to her.

The family's Thanksgiving holiday meal is a special one because they are all together, Babs says.

“When a few very close friends are added, there are often 35-plus around our tables. Most of the women cook the meal together while the grandchildren prepare dessert. ... The men fish, hunt and watch a bit of sports on TV — great plan because they're not in the kitchen snacking on what's ready before dinner is served and are really hungry when it's time to eat.”

This year, she says, “I'm most thankful this year for the chance to care for my elderly parents. Having the opportunity to care for them in return for their care for me and my siblings is a blessing not all of us receive. This blessing has been a binding gift for our entire family, not just me.”

One of the family's favorite Thanksgiving recipes also is one of the top side dishes at the cafe, Babs adds.

“My grandmother — father's mother — was a great Southern cook and loved sweet potatoes. She used marshmallows with the recipe but I have removed this delightful treat not only for the calories but also for the diabetic at our table.”

Furthermore, “The beauty of this recipe is that you can substitute other sweeteners for the brown sugar if you have a diabetic or dieter at the table. I use Stevia and am lucky enough to be the taste tester throughout the preparation. I don't often measure the Stevia so I'm not sure about how much I use in the substitution process — also often use liquid stevia over the granular so it is just a matter of tasting.”

Sweet Potato Casserole

Serves about 8


6 large sweet potatoes

cup butter, melted (Melt separately or mix in the warm potatoes after peeled and ready to use)

1 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Pinch nutmeg

1 cups heavy cream


Bake potatoes until tender and fork inserts through center with no resistance. Remove skins (when you can handle the potato, but best done when warm), place in large bowl and mash. Add butter, brown sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, cream and mix well or whip. Pour into your baking dish.

For topping

4 tablespoons butter

3 apples, cored and diced (skins may remain; your preference)

cup raisins

1 cup chopped pecans

cup brown sugar (see cook's note)


Cook's note: “I do not substitute Stevia for this sugar, but reduce to 1/8 cup, especially if using fresh sweet apples.”

Melt butter in skillet. Add apples, raisins, pecans and brown sugar. Saute for several minutes until apples are tender. Spoon onto top of sweet potato mixture in casserole. Bake at 325 degrees until warmed through. Serve hot.