Ode to the candied yam

When I was young, candied yams* were a Thanksgiving tradition. After the oldest generation was gone, my father was the only one who would eat the stuff, but it had to be on the table, glistening rust-brown with fungus-white marshmallows. It was reduced to a single yam then, in a 6-inch-square dish which would return to the fridge after dinner with a single corner missing. Jokes about the candied yam — without an “s” at the end — became as traditional as the dish itself. By the time I discovered that yams and sweet potatoes in other forms were actually edible, my father was a decade gone and I was in my forties. Funny how childhood impressions endure.

Ode to the candied yam

Oh singular yam, much reviled,
Vegetable more jest than food,
What ill-lived former life has brought you
To this ignominious doom?
Torn from sun-warmed, sleepy soil
To drown in sugar syruped gloom,
Sacrificed to one man’s craving,
Set among marshmallow blooms.
When at last the baking’s over,
Cut by glutinous silver spoon,
One corner only will be eaten
As noses turn up through the room.
Mashed or fried you’re much admired,
Oh, most ancient, noble root,
But you know, because we tell you,
Sugar spoils a savory fruit.

*Or rather, as I discovered recently, candied orange-fleshed sweet pototoes.

Sweet potatoes and yams

native to:
sweet potatoes: tropical regions of the Americas
yams: Asia

in season: fall

Although they serve the same purpose and are used interchangeably in recipes, sweet potatoes and yams are not, in fact, the same thing. However, just in case there was any threat of clarity on the matter, what the supermarkets describe as “Garnet” or “Jewel” yams are in fact orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. For actual yams, you’ll probably have to go to an ethnic market. Both vegetables should be kept out of the fridge in a cool, dark, reasonably dry spot.

Sweet potatoes are slightly more nutritious, but both are good sources of fiber, potassium, copper, manganese, iron, vitamins C and B6, thiamine (B1), pantothenic acid and folates. They both have plenty of antioxidants and very low glycemic indices. Yams are somewhat lower in calories; they have more omega-3s and a unique blend of phytonutrients. Sweet potatoes are significantly higher in vitamin A and anti-inflammatories. Yams can actually worsen symptoms of inflammatory diseases such as IBS, arthritis, and gout, but are thought to help relieve PMS symptoms, while sweet potatoes have a less desirable ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fats.

Yams are of the genus Dioscorea in the morning glory family and are larger and have a thicker skin. They are used in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese traditional medicine to speed healing of wounds. They may also help stabilize hormonal patterns and lower the risk of osteoporosis.

Sweet potatoes are Ipomoea batatas in the genus Convolvulaceae. Conventionally-grown ones can be treated with dyes or wax and should be peeled before eating, while the skins of organic sweet potatoes can be eaten. Boiling is actually a good way of preparing them, because it makes the beta-carotene and vitamin A more available and lowers their glycemic index (it ends up at about half that of a baked sweet potato). For the best beta-carotene absorption, eat your sweet potatoes with a bit of fat or oil (stir-frying is a good option here). People with oxalate concerns should be careful of sweet potatoes, although they’re not as bad as leafy vegetables such as spinach.

Sweet potatoes can be eaten raw, but yams contain bitter, unhealthy proteins and must be peeled and cooked. One variety, Japanese yam (Dioscorea opposita) is traditionally soaked in a vinegar solution instead of cooking, which amounts to much the same thing.

Read more:
label-style nutrition information for cooked yam
label-style nutrition information for cooked sweet potato
yams at Nutrition and You
sweet potatoes at whfoods.com
sweet potatoes and yams at Fullcircle.com
sweet potatoes compared to white potatoes at Cleveland Clinic

and, just for fun, here’s the classic modern epicLutefisk and yams
Check back tomorrow for my own bit of doggerel about this Thanksgiving favorite (or, if you’re a poetry-lover, maybe not…).

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.

Beyond cranberry sauce

Tradition dictates that this is when I should post a recipe for cranberry sauce, but since the internet already has approximately two cranberry sauce recipes per sauce-eating adult on the entire planet, I’ll just say that there’s no reason to eat the canned stuff if you’ve got a source of good cranberries since it’s about as difficult to make as chocolate milk, but start with no more than half the sugar or other sweetener in the recipe and work up.

Instead, here are a couple of intriguing recipes from Olympia’s Bloom Creek Cranberries, who plan to be at the Olympia Farmer’s Market at least through the next couple of weeks.

Kathy’s cranberry fudge

1 1/4 cup fresh or frozen cranberries (1 bag Bloom Creek cranberries)
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 cups chocolate chips
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Boil cranberries and corn syrup on high 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 3 Tbsp. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate until melted. Add remaining ingredients and stir vigorously until thick and glossy. Pour into a plastic-lined 8×8-inch pan, cover, and chill until firm.

Felix’s cranberry pork chops

Mix equal parts cranberry sauce and barbecue sauce. Spoon over pork chops and bake at 350F until done.

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.


native to: Northern Europe, Asia, and the US, and Canada
in season here: late fall into winter

Contrary to the popular image, cranberries don’t require an actual bog to grow in, although they do need plenty of water and acidic, sandy soil and will grow in one (and what else are you going to grow there?). They’re a member of the Ericaceae or heather family, related to blueberries, bilberries, and lingonberries, and grow on low creeping shrubs with thin branches and small evergreen leaves. Cranberries are also called bounceberries because they bounce when ripe (a quality actually used commercially to sort them), and craneberries because their blossoms look a bit like the heads of cranes. The berries float, so flooding the field is the easiest way to harvest them. Most of the big commercial fields sell the biggest, juiciest berries to juice manufacturers, so once again a farmers’ market is the best place to shop.

Cranberries were used by Native Americans as food, decorations, medicine, and dyes. The American cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon, is the most widely-grown variety, having the biggest berries, but other species such as the European cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) can be found throughout the northern hemisphere and the smaller-berried Vaccinium microcarpum is common in northern Europe and Asia.

Cranberries are rich in phyto-nutrients that offer protection against cavities, urinary tract infections, cancer, neurological diseases, and inflammatory diseases, and may support the immune system in general. They also have a lot of antioxidants and are useful against cholesterol problems. They’re a good source of all sorts of nutrients, providing lots of vitamins A, C, E, and K, beta-carotene, lutein, zea-xanthin, folate, potassium, and manganese. They’ll turn urine acidic, which helps prevent the formation of alkaline stones in the urinary tract, although the oxalic acid can form its own stones, so be careful if that’s a concern for you, and be sure you’re getting plenty of water with your cranberries. You should also be careful of cranberries if you’re taking warfarin or need to build up minerals such as calcium.

Cranberries are most commonly consumed as juice, but this is not the best way to get all those great phytonutrients. Also, many “juices” are mostly water and sugar, so be sure to check the fine print on those labels.

Read more:
label-style nutrition information for raw cranberries
label-style nutrition information for sweetened dried cranberries
Nutrition and You
Medical News Today
Authority Nutrition

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.

Roots in cream

any combination of celeriac, potatoes, and/or kohlrabi*
whole milk, half-and-half, or cream
sprinkle of nutmeg, optional

Peel the roots and slice into 1/4-inch thick disks. Arrange in an oven-proof dish and add enough milk to just cover, then sprinkle with nutmeg if desired. Cover dish and place on a baking sheet (optional but highly recommended, because chances are it’ll boil over and make a mess and possibly a smell; for easy clean-up dig out that old baking sheet you’ve been meaning to throw out anyway or spring for one of those disposable foil oven liners). Bake 45 min. at 375F, then uncover and bake another 10 min or until slices are tender.

*possibly beets would be good too.

From Dana Huffman.

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.