I Yam A Sweet Potato
Updated: Dec 11, 2020
Today’s post was inspired by a visit to one of my favorite supermarkets in the world, The Jubilee in Pearl River, Louisiana.
The Jubilee is like my personal version of Guy’s Grocery Games. I’ve been playing there ever since my niece, Sommer, and her family moved into the neighborhood.
The quintessential small town, Pearl River had less than 2500 residents last count – that’s if you don’t count the Honey Island Swamp Monster, which may or may not live here.
If you ever find yourself in this neck of the woods, a tour of the swamp is an absolute must.
While I can’t guarantee you’ll see the swamp monster, I do guarantee you will see massive alligators jumping up to eat hot dogs and if you’re really lucky, you may also see wild boars swimming up to the boat to devour marshmallows. That’s in addition to the glorious flowers, fauna and other wildlife.
Besides the bayou, one of the things I miss the most about living in Louisiana is the sense of the seasons that are experienced both by festivals and celebrations, as well as the delicious bounty of fruits, vegetables and seafoods.
Last post I mentioned mirlitons, the squash dish that we enjoy during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, stuffed with shrimp.
The evidence of mirlitons prominence during the holidays can be seen in every local grocery store. Mountains of them can be found storefront and also in the produce department.
This week at the Jubilee, I found mirlitons priced at ten for a dollar. This was the lowest price I’ve ever seen. In South Florida, I frequently pay a dollar or more for one.
Deals like this are what tickle me about the Jubilee. That and the small town feel of the market.
Here the employees refer to the customers as “Ma’am or Sir,” and refer to each other as Mr. or Miss. PA’s are fun to listen to, also.
Recently I heard something like this, “Miss Betty. Would you please bring your spray nozzle to the back of the store. Miss Betty. We need your spray nozzle in the back of the store.”
Why Miss Betty has a spray nozzle in the first place is a puzzle to me, never mind my curiosity as to exactly what it was needed it for.
Other than incredibly nice, courteous employees, you never know what you will find when you walk in.
To the right of the entrance is usually a display filled with a random item that the store is trying to clearance. Since my first visit, I have loved buying whatever might be there and then challenging myself to make something delicious with it. Hence my own version of Guys Grocery Games.
This morning I walked in looking for the 99 cent pineapples I found a couple of days ago, and lo and behold, there were no pineapples to be found. What was displayed, however, were bunches of red leaf lettuce. Five bunches for one dollar.
I kid you not. As much as I love a deal, this was one I managed to resist. Briefly, I did consider buying said lettuce and lightly sautéing it with garlic. But the thought of washing and drying five bunches of lettuce made me cringe. That and the fact that I would probably be the only person in the house to eat the finished product.
Unlike the three pineapples I bought two days ago, which are now gone. Between eating the spears as a snack and using some to test sweet potato casseroles, the nine of us in my niece’s house made short work of them.
The sweet potato casseroles came into play because when I was at the store on my previous visit, I found a forty pound box of sweet potatoes on sale for $5.00! That’s a little less than 13 cents a pound. Score.
That time I had just run into the store to pick up the Bunny Bread and Christmas tree shaped Little Debbie cakes that were on sale.
Bunny Bread is an iconic Louisiana brand, and costs almost three times as much as the store brand. Whatever magic is done at the Bunny Bread factory, it’s worth the price. If you consider the endless orders of toast and grilled cheese sandwiches that Remy, Rory and Austin request on a daily basis, grabbing a few loaves on sale is a good idea.
The Little Debbie’s were to decorate the Pop Tart holiday village the kids and I had constructed the previous week. If you’ve only ever worked with pre-made gingerbread kits, you must give Pop-Tarts a try.
The strawberry ones are already decorated with red and green, and they stay together much better than any of the gingerbread I’ve ever worked with. Bonus: You can also sneak bites of the tarts as you cut them for the kids to build with.
I will forewarn you, however, that your village may disappear when you’re not looking. This morning I woke up to find the six Little Debbie brownie Christmas trees missing from the display.
In full force, however, were the Little Debbie gingerbread men. Promising the kids a treat when I went to the store yesterday, the gingerbread men failed the taste test.
They also failed to impress Remy, who put her hands on her hips and scowled when I returned from the grocery. “Let me understand this. You said you were bringing us something, and bought a treat for the village?”
Absolutely. Evil grandma that I am, it’s a constant battle to keep sweets to a minimum and healthier snacks in the forefront. I’ll take any excuse that I can get.
Though the kids didn’t consider the makings for homemade ranch dip, cucumbers and celery a treat, they sure fought over them at snack time along with the grown-up kids in the house.
At any rate, my sister, Stacey was waiting for me in the car while I ran into the store. You should have seen the look on her face when I came out with a forty pound box of sweet potatoes and three pineapples.
“Have you lost your mind?” she asked. “What are you going to do with all of those potatoes?”
“How many boxes did you get,” Sommer asked. She then started naming people that we could give potatoes to.
Gawd, I love Louisiana. If I offered most of my Florida friends raw potatoes, they would call the man in the white coat.
Here, in Louisiana, it’s common for everyone I know to share whatever is plentiful at the moment – shrimp, crawfish, Satsumas (these luscious citrus deserve their own post), potatoes, whatever.
Besides sharing them, I thought it would be fun to do some recipe development. Especially since these weren’t ordinary sweet potatoes, but Sweet Creole Yams.
If you’ve never had a Louisiana yam, you’re in for a treat. Moister, sweeter and creamier than the ordinary supermarket sweet potato, Louisiana yams were developed by researcher Julian C. Miller at the Louisiana Research Station back in 1937.
In order to differentiate them from the stringier, East Coast counterparts, these improved sweet potatoes were marketed as Louisiana yams.
Sweet potatoes, in fact, are not actually potatoes at all. They are roots. Part of the Morning Glory family, they are the root of a purple or pink creeping and flowering vine.
Yams, on the other hand, can be compared to yucca. Starchy, with a rough exterior, yams can grow up to 45 feet long. They are an integral crop in West African food traditions, and are also eaten in parts of Latin America, Asia and the Caribbean.
That the word yam became confused with sweet potato may be a result of the crops prominence in West Africa. “As Dr. Scott Alves Barton, a chef and culinary educator who teaches at NYU, wrote in the February issue of Food & Wine , sweet potatoes became one of several transfer foods, a throughline allowing enslaved peoples to preserve their traditions and spiritual practices even in the face of captivity and abuse.”
Sweet potatoes continued to be important to African Americans as they were a crop that not only sustained the community, but were a livelihood for many farmers.
Most of us have heard of George Washington Carver, and the fact that he made about 300 different products from peanuts.
Like peanuts, sweet potatoes can be grown in soil that has been depleted from growing cotton. Carver also came up with about 100 products made from sweet potatoes, including starch, tapioca, glue for postage stamps, 500 shades of textile dye and more.
His research enabled poor farmers to better utilize their land and earn more income.
There is another George Washington who has a history in sweet potatoes. Before becoming our first president, George Washington was a sweet potato farmer.
Without a doubt, the potatoes farmed by Washington were of a stringy, early variety that would eventually be improved in Louisiana and dubbed “yams.”
Although supermarkets in the United States continue to use the names sweet potatoes and yams interchangeably, the USDA requires that use of the words sweet potatoes be added if the produce is marketed as yams.
You say yam, I say potato. We all say delicious.
Sweet potato pie, sweet potato casserole, sweet potato soup, sweet potato candy, sweet potato stew, sweet potato burritos…
You get the idea.
For more, check out this Country Living article with 80 different sweet potato recipes:
As for me, I have come up with two new Louisiana yam/sweet potato recipes that we are enjoying.
The first is a pineapple sweet potato casserole, spiked with Malibu coconut rum. It’s so good, ya’ll.
I tested the recipe twice, first without cooking the pineapple first, next browning the butter and caramelizing the pineapples and adding in a little brown sugar and the rum.
The dish was good before, but this step takes it to the next level. For sure this will be our new holiday sweet potato go-to.
The other recipe is for a lightly spiced Indian flavored sweet potato soup. You could easily sub out the Indian spices and replace with more traditional sweet potato flavors such as nutmeg.
Consider the basic soup a blank canvas. Make it your own.
Though I garnish the dish with crumbled bacon and sautéed the onions in bacon fat for extra flavor, you can skip both. Sauté the onions in vegan butter and switch out the bacon topping for some chopped and toasted pecans or pine nuts.
Substitute the chicken broth for vegetable broth.
You would be hard pressed to find a richer or tastier vegan soup that also happens to be dairy and gluten-free.
Meanwhile, I still have twenty pounds of potatoes in the pantry calling to me. Time to get to work.
Pineapple Sweet Potato Casserole
3 large sweet potatoes, baked, peeled then cubed
2 sticks of butter, divided
2 cups pineapple, chopped fine
¼ cup Malibu coconut rum
1 cup pecans, chopped fine
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup flour
Grease a 9x12 baking pan.
Bake the potatoes in a 350 degree oven until they are easily pierced with a fork.
When cooled, peel, mash and place in a large bowl. This is a good job for kids. Do not turn off the oven.
Melt one stick of butter in a small saucepan on medium heat. Cook for a few moments until the butter begins to brown.
Add the pineapples, rum and brown sugar. Mix and continue cooking on low heat, for about 20 minutes. Give it a stir every once in a while, to make sure it’s not sticking and that the pineapples are caramelizing evenly.
Remove from the stove and add the pineapple mixture to the sweet potato mixture and combine.
Mix the pecans, brown sugar, and the additional stick of butter and flour in a small bowl.
Pour the sweet potato and pineapple mixture into the baking pan.
Sprinkle the pecan mixture on top, using a spatula to spread evenly.
Bake in the 350 degree oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the crumb topping is browned.
*Coconut rum may be omitted or substituted with plain rum or bourbon.
*If pressed for time, you can skip caramelizing the pineapples. Just combine the pineapple, rum and brown sugar in a small bowl, then add to the potato mixture. I have tried it both ways and though cooking the pineapple tastes best, either way works.
*For a vegan version, substitute the butter for a quality vegan butter.
Indian Spiced Sweet Potato Soup
3 large sweet potatoes
3 slices bacon
1 small onion, diced
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 teaspoon curcumin
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garlic powder
5 cups chicken stock
1 can of coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt
Bake the potatoes in a 350 degree oven until they are easily pierced with a fork.
Fry the bacon in a sauté pan until crispy.
Remove the bacon and set aside.
Lightly brown the chopped onion in the bacon fat that has been rendered in the pan on medium heat.
Add the garam masala, curcumin, curry powder, turmeric and garlic powder. Sauté for a minute or two.
Peel and mash the potatoes.
Add the potatoes, chicken stock, coconut milk and salt to the onion mixture.
Simmer on low for twenty minutes.
Working in batches, transfer the soup to a blender and process until smooth.
Alternatively, use an immersion blender to blend the soup. Use caution either way, so that you don’t burn yourself with hot liquid.
*Taste and adjust the seasonings to your preference. Although this soup contains a lot of spices, it is not spicy. Add a little cayenne pepper if you’d like some heat.
*Depending on the size of your potatoes, the soup may need to be thinned with additional chicken stock.
Serve hot, with crumbled bacon on top and a sprig of parsley, if desired.