It's Not Thanksgiving Without Yams


Photo by Regina Charboneau

To try yams with cranberry chutney, click here for the recipe.

I think most people would agree that the word "cranberry" conjures up thoughts of Thanksgiving dinner as much as the word "turkey." Although the Concord grape, blueberry, and cranberry are some of the fruits native to our North America, nothing seems to say "American Food" as much as the cranberry. I am not now, nor ever have been a fan of traditional canned cranberry sauce. However, I am a major fan of cranberries and lament the fact that they have such a brief season. Some of my favorite recipes utilize the fresh cranberry--cranberry-mango chutney and my favorite cake for the holidays, gingerbread cake with fresh cranberries folded into the batter.

Although in the South we use the words "sweet potato" constantly, most of the time we are referring to the Louisiana yam. Traditionally at Thanksgiving in the South yams are mashed with butter and brown sugar then to add to the sweetness topped with marshmallows. Personally, I never went for this over-sweet dish, but I always loved baked yams with butter and salt and pepper.

This is the only thing I know about yams for certain--I think "sweet potato pie" sounds better than "yam pie."

As my Thanksgiving menus evolved, one dish that is a standard at my Thanksgiving table is baked yams with cranberry chutney. I bake a yam and top it with sour cream then my cranberry-mango chutney. The chutney can be made ahead and can be frozen with great success. Baking yams is easy and they do not take that long to bake. This really sets off a plate, because it is so colorful. The chutney is a perfect substitute for cranberry sauce. When I make my cranberry chutney, I make enough for the whole year and can it and freeze it. It is so hard to find fresh cranberries after Thanksgiving, so I buy several bags and freeze them. The cranberry chutney is great with a pork roast in the dead of winter.

Louisiana yams are really what we eat in Mississippi and Louisiana, but we all make the mistake of using the word sweet potato and yam interchangeably. From what I have always heard, they are not the same. This is very confusing because I know for sure is Opelousas is the yam capital of the world and we always referred to yams as "sweet potatoes". Some things in life are not worth exploring or explaining, however, I think there should be some explanation about the difference between the two. This is the only thing I know about yams for certain--I think "sweet potato pie" sounds better than "yam pie." Other than that, here are a few facts. Just to let you know, for every source I found that says one thing I found another to contradict it. This is to the best of my knowledge. Is this fact or fiction? Let me know.

    • Sweet potatoes are a pan-tropical vine widely cultivated in several varieties for its large, sweet tuberous root with orange flesh

    • A yam is tropical vine tuber found in South and Central America, West Indies, Asia, and Africa. Frequently confused with sweet potatoes, true yams are from different plant species and are not widely marketed or grown in the U.S.

    • The orange-fleshed, Puerto Rican variety of sweet potatoes was adopted by Louisiana producers who called them "yams" to distinguish them from the white-fleshed sweet potatoes grown in other parts of the country. The yam reference became the trademark for Louisiana-grown sweet potatoes.

    • Sweet potatoes are not in the potato family but a root.

    • Sweet potatoes that are bright orange are rich in beta carotene.

    • Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins and are low in fat and sodium.

    • When I shop for yams I look for the rounder ones that are smooth, plump, dry and no soft spots.

Recipe: Yams With Cranberry Chutney

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Regina Charboneau is the owner of Twin Oaks Bed & Breakfast in Natchez, Mississippi. She is the author of Regina's Table at Twin Oaks. More

Regina Charboneau is the owner of Twin Oaks Bed & Breakfast in Natchez, Mississippi. She is the author of two cookbooks: A Collection of Seasonal Menus & Recipes from Regina's Kitchen and Regina's Table at Twin Oaks.

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