Candied Yams — and Baked Sweet Potatoes

This is an old family recipe and much simpler and easier than some holiday sweet potato recipes. Notice that I wrote “sweet potatoes” when the recipe is “candied yams”. I’m not going to get into the difference between them here. Despite the title, the tubers that you’ll use to make this dish are sweet potatoes. Chances are that no matter what your grocery store calls them, what you see in the store are probably sweet potatoes. If they are an autumnal russet hue and have orange flesh, they are sweet potatoes. I’m presenting the recipe here as I wrote it down many years ago when my mother told me how to make it. This was around the time I left home and I recall quizzing my mother on the preparation of various holiday dishes. This recipe has been passed down in our family and is probably rather old, which is why it doesn’t have any fancy foodie additions to it. (If you want to fancy it up, a quick internet search for “candied yams” will give you an alarming assortment of ideas.) I have to confess that I haven’t made it in years. I loved it as a kid—what kid doesn’t like cinnamon and sugar? But as an adult, it’s sometimes too sweet for my tastes. Probably because my mother never measured the amount of sugar and every time I made it I just sprinkled and guessed…and sometimes guessed wrong! 😉 Below are my mother’s instructions, with some parenthetical asides by me. 😉

Peel yams (which are actually sweet potatoes). Cut into pieces or slices. Use a pan with a lid. Sprinkle cinnamon over the potatoes and a generous amount of sugar (see, that’s what got me into trouble…that word “generous”). Use a Tbls or two of margarine and dot around over the potatoes. (I think I’ve used more than 2 dots of margarine.) Add a small amount of water to the pan…just enough to help them get started cooking. Leave the fire turned up high until they start cooking (yes, she referred to the electric burner as “the fire”), then put the lid on the pot and lower the fire and let simmer until done. Stir occasionally.

Baked Sweet Potatoes: These days when I cook sweet potatoes I wrap them in foil as I would russet potatoes, then bake the hell out of them. This takes considerably longer than “candied yams” because in my experience it takes more than an hour to bake a sweet potato until it’s soft and done, but this depends on the size of the potatoes and the temperature of the stove. I usually don’t fuss about it much; I just wrap them up and put them in the oven any place I can with whatever else is baking (if it’s a holiday there’s always something in the oven…) and bake at whatever the oven happens to be, checking them for doneness after an hour and then guestimating how much longer they’ll need (if they aren’t done) or pulling them out and finishing them in the microwave. If you have the oven space to spare I’d recommend baking them on a baking sheet because sometimes, particularly if they are somewhat over-done, they will leak a small amount of juice from the folds of the foil which will drop sizzling into the oven if they’re just laid on the oven rack. This isn’t always an option with oven space usually being at a premium for big holiday meals, but at least you’ve been warned. 😉 If you don’t over-cook them you’re less likely to have a problem, but with people in and out, ongoing  food preparation and just visiting with friends and family as the holiday meal is prepared, it’s easy to lose track of time if you leave them in for “just a little while longer”. 😉

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