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.