Yams and Sweet Potatoes for Thanksgiving



Sweet Potato

Sweet Potato

Yams and sweet potatoes are part and parcel of the traditional Thanksgiving feast, especially in the southern part of the United States. These can come in the form of a pie, an open tart, or simply as a plain dish of gooey caramelized goodness. They can come embellished with orange zest or topped with marshmallows. Some cooks will prepare them with a touch of bourbon and a splash of lemon juice so that you get a sweet-tart dessert in contrast to the turkey, the centerpiece of the meal.

Is it a Yam or a Sweet Potato?

The orange tubers served as Thanksgiving dessert are usually called yams, but they are actually sweet potatoes. There is a difference between a yam and a sweet potato, and although the dividing line between these two terms has blurred, the yam is a substantially different from the sweet potato. “What is the Difference Between a Yam and a Sweet Potato?” According to NCS Sweet Potatoes,” A true yam is a starchy edible root of the Dioscorea genus, and is generally imported to America from the Caribbean. It is rough and scaly and very low in beta carotene.”

Part of the confusion may come from the fact that sweet potatoes come in a wide range of colors: white, light yellow, deep yellow, pale orange, deep orange, lavender, and purple.

How Sweet Potatoes a.k.a Yams Became Thanksgiving Fare

Medieval Europe has records of yams being used in vegetable recipes, but in the United States, this root crop is believed to have been used initially and mainly by African American slaves. Yams and sweet potatoes were a staple of their kitchens, and they now hold a prominent place in the cuisine known as soul food.

There is no record specifying that the yam or the sweet potato was served during the first thanksgiving celebration in November 1621. Moreover, historians deduce that these had not been introduced to the colonies at this time. Yams or sweet potatoes possibly became adopted as a popular dessert in the 1800s, making them a relatively recent addition to the Thanksgiving menu.

In The Not-So-Ancient History of 10 Thanksgiving Dishes, Miss Cellania of Mental Floss mentions that “Sweet potatoes are native to the Americas and their consumption goes back about 5,000 years, so it is no wonder they are associated with the American holiday, even though the Pilgrims didn’t have them in Massachusetts. But when did we start adding sugar to make them even sweeter than they are? The Old Foodie did some research, and the earliest recipe found is from 1889, in which sweet potatoes are made into candy.

“The candied sweet potato is a Philadelphia confectionery. It is nothing but sweet potatoes carefully boiled and quartered, then candied in boiling syrup, but it is said to be dainty and tender and of a delicious flavor”.

“By 1895, recipes for sweetened sweet potatoes as a dinner side dish were showing up. Some call these recipes candied yams, although actual yams are a different plant altogether. “Yams” is an American nickname for the softer varieties of sweet potato…”

Preparing “Yams” or Sweet Potato

There are many ways of preparing sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving, but the most popular one is to serve them with a topping of golden brown marshmallows. To get this dish ready for your table, boil, microwave, or steam the potatoes (or use canned ones), slice them and arrange them in an oven-to-table baking dish. Over this layer you pour orange juice and a mixture of flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, and margarine – ingredients from a recipe shared by Heidi Rytter in All Recipes’ Thanksgiving Sweet Potatoes.

She instructs readers; “In a small bowl, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt; mix together and cut in margarine. Sprinkle over sweet potatoes. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with marshmallows and broil until browned.”

This dessert is easy to prepare; it costs very little, and it provides a beautiful finish to a heavy meal. Best of all, you can prepare it before the big day, just leaving the marshmallow topping for the time you are ready to serve dinner. If you have never tried preparing “yams” for Thanksgiving, this year’s holiday is the perfect time to try.

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