Sweet potatoes are an important part of our Thanksgiving meal, but I like them any time of the year. I remember my mother making a good sweet potato custard (which would have been much better with a little less nutmeg). As I have often said, spices should enhance the flavor of the food to which it is added and should never overpower it. I guess this is just a matter of preference.
Sometimes Mother would simply cut the peeled sweet potatoes lengthwise into slices about 1/4-inch thick. These were fried in a small amount of fat until lightly browned on each side. The finishing touch was a generous sprinkling of granulated sugar. As strange as it might seem, we thought this was a kind of dessert.
Then there was a dish that Mother called sweet potato croquettes. I could never understand why they were called croquettes. Most croquettes are shaped into balls or cones, coated with crumbs and deep-fried. For this tasty dish, soft mounds of mashed sweet potatoes, which were sweetened and mixed with coconut, were placed side by side in an ovenproof dish. Half of a large marshmallow was pressed into the top of each mound. As the “croquettes” baked, the marshmallows would brown slightly. This was really a treat for the kids.
But the sweet potato dish that I miss the most is my mother’s candied yams. Many of the recipes that I have found for candied yams start with sweet potatoes that have already been cooked until tender and then candied. As I remember, Mother never pre-cooked the sweet potatoes. Her candied sweet potatoes, coated with a thick syrup, were slightly chewy on the edges. Perhaps this was because she cooked them until they almost stuck to the skillet. They were so good!
I found a recipe in a cookbook that seemed similar to the one I remember from my childhood. Of course, I made a few adjustments — leaving out the nutmeg.
Many years ago when I first tried making candied sweet potatoes like the ones I remembered, I decided to call my sister to see what she remembered about Mother’s version. She explained that Mother layered sliced sweet potatoes and sugar in a large iron skillet and then dotted them with butter. When asked if Mother added water, she remarked, “very little, if any at all.” This made me have doubts about mine, because the recipe I was using called for 1 1/2 cups of water. Could these sweet potatoes possibly be anything like Mother’s? Much to my surprise, they were! Great flavor from only four ingredients! Of course, if you like nutmeg, go ahead and add a little.
Southern Candied Sweet Potatoes
3 medium sweet potatoes
1 1/4 cups sugar
6 tablespoons butter or
1 1/2 cups water
Peel and cut yams crosswise into 1/4-inch slices. Place in large skillet and sprinkle sugar over the top. Dot with butter and add the water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium and cover. Cook for about 25 minutes or until sweet potatoes are fork tender and the liquid forms a syrup. Remove cover and continue cooking for another 3 to 5 minutes to thicken syrup, if needed.