For many Americans, sweet potatoes are a traditional part of the Thanksgiving dinner. If you come from another country, you may not be familiar with this vegetable. Here’s what you might like to know.
Sweet potatoes, especially the soft kind, are often called “yams”, but they are not really the same. Yams are native to Africa and Asia. Sweet potatoes are native to South America (but they are now grown in many other warm regions). Long ago, African slaves in the Americas began calling sweet potatoes “yams”. Today, most people in the U.S. and Canada do the same. But real yams are very rare in the Americas. You can usually find them only in stores that sell imported foods.
Sweet potatoes can be cooked in the same ways as white potatoes. Unlike white potatoes, they can be used for pie filling. This is popular in the southern States.
For Thanksgiving, sweet potatoes are usually specially prepared. One way to do this is to:
- Bake them
- Cut them in half
- Take out most of the insides
- Mix the insides with butter, spices (use spices you might use in a cake, like cinnamon or nutmeg), and a little sugar
- Put the insides back in the skins
- Put butter and breadcrumbs on top
- Bake them again until the breadcrumbs brown
Some recipes tell you to put marshmallows on top of the sweet potatoes. Americans have strong feelings about this. For example, The Joy of Cooking, a famous cookbook by Irma Rombauer and Marion Becker, says, “These are a matter of taste, or – in our strongly biased view – lack of it.” Diane Morgan, author of The Thanksgiving Table, says, “I can't bring myself to write such a recipe because I don't like the sticky-sweet topping."
For other people, however, it wouldn’t feel like Thanksgiving without marshmallows on the sweet potatoes. The important thing is to cook them the way you and your family like best. Some more sweet toppings you can try are brown sugar, syrup, and fruit.
If you think Americans feel too strongly about sweet potatoes, wait till Christmas, when they start talking about fruitcake.