In Holiday Traditions, I will be revisiting the multicultural kitchen I grew up in - part Southern American, part Southeastern Asian. The first installment can be found here.
I mentioned in my first post on my mixed family's holiday traditions that my father grew up in the South, along the Gulf Coast. It's these flavors that have also mingled with my mother's Thai and Laotian background to create something that is distinctly ours - different and separate from the recipes of either side of my family, but made up of both.
My father's extended family lives in the Panhandle of Florida. The recipes and meals that I've had at their tables are deeply rooted in farming backgrounds - freshly shucked corn for the sweetest creamed corn you've ever had, lima beans bought straight from the farm and the best watermelons you'll every buy are all from this area and the kitchens I've grown up in there. In my first post I wrote about a Pumpkin Red Curry recipe that hailed from my mother's Thai heritage, but pumpkins, squashes, yams and gourds are important to the cooking done on my father's side as well. Most notably for me, those root vegetables shone brightest in my late Aunt Ruth's candied yams.
When my sister and I were little, my parents would take us to visit our great, great aunts, sisters who lived together in their final years, and two pillars of Southern cooking within the Durden family. Each with their own specialties, Aunt Allie Mae and Aunt Ruth could make even vegetables delicious. My favorite, the first thing to hit my plate if my parents weren't looking, were always their candied yams. What's funny when thinking about how the kitchens and cooking on either side of my family are more related than I could ever think, is that for the relation of ingredients in the jump from pumpkin red curry to candied yam, I can also loop back to my mother's side of the family with sweet taro cooked in coconut milk being a sweet yam similar to the idea of candied yams. The possibilities of linking like recipes, similar cooking styles, and matching flavors are endless for me, but I digress.
Sadly, I never got the recipe for candied yams straight from Aunt Ruth, but I was able to reach out to Aunt Janet, my great aunt, to get her version of these deliciously caramelized root veggies. In a way, even though I couldn't get the recipe directly from Aunt Ruth, it's comforting that the recipes still live on through other family members. Family members who are bastions of Southern cooking themselves.
These candied yams are served as a side dish in my family, but could really be seen as a sweet ending to a meal. The outer edges of the yams, coated in a brown sugar glaze, give way to an almost creamy interior. Think of them as a less involved sweet potato casserole - which my sister Victoria makes every single year for Thanksgiving now that we're older. I feel like her love of all things sweet potato stemmed from these first tastes of candied yams. And don't worry about breaking out the plastic containers for these after your Christmas or holiday meal, you won't have any leftovers. Well, not if my sister and I have anything to do with it.
Candied Yams or Sweet Potatoes
Serves 4 to 6 people
3 to 4 Large Sweet Potatoes or Yams
1 1/2 Cup of Sugar
2 Tablespoons of Brown Sugar for Topping
1/2 cup of Water
2 Tablespoons of Butter
1/8 Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon of Salt
- Mix together sugar, water and salt over high heat. Stir to combine until sugar is almost completely dissolved.
- Peel potatoes and cube or slice into quarters, almost like large steak fries. As you cut potatoes, drop them in the water and sugar mixture. Cook on high heat for approximately 10 minutes and lower the heat to medium and cook, uncovered for 20 minutes or until tender. The juices from the root vegetables will combine with the syrup and begin to thicken. Note from Aunt Janet: Do not worry if syrup mixture does not cover potatoes when put in pot. Everything will eventually cook down into the syrup.
- Add butter and when syrup has cooked down to about half of the original amount, and add the vanilla extract.
- Transfer everything into a shallow 7 1/2 x 11 1/2 inch baking dish. Sprinkle 2 or 3 teaspoons of brown sugar over potatoes and run under broiler about 5 to 10 minutes to glaze and brown a bit.
The sweet potatoes I used to make the recipe were extremely cheap, clocking in at $1.29 a pound. Everything else is usually readily available in your pantry, but if you were to buy all of the needed ingredients it would come to a total of about $2.48 per person, per serving if you were serving the max of 6 people that this feeds. That's also not accounting for the amount of leftover ingredients that you'll have to make other delicious recipes.