25 September 2013
Candied Sweet Potatoes I remember looking outside my Grandmother’s window, yellow and orange leaves covered the ground; pumpkins and statues of turkeys were outside every house down the street. The aroma inside the warm house comforted my grumbling stomach. Smells of all kinds of dishes filled the air, turkey, gravy, stuffing, apple and pumpkin pie, but most importantly candied sweet potatoes. It was the Thanksgiving of 1999, also known as the year I fell head over heels in love with candied sweet potatoes.
I was about four years old at this time and my mother had been raving about these potatoes. She told me my Grandma takes all day preparing and baking them. The time had finally come; my family gathered around the long wooden table, I saw a plate topped with gooey clouds of marshmallows cascading over sugared brown sweet potatoes. Needless to say I had about four full plates of it, I also deemed the name: dish shiner because my plate was licked clean after all those servings. It was official, this had become my new obsession, candied sweet potatoes. As I grew up I began to learn more and more about my Grandma and how she became the god of all recipes. She was born and raised in Sicily, later becoming a well-known chef for food networks in Italy. Back then, it was an informal norm for women to slave over the stove for countless hours of the day. That was their only job and they had to do it well. The sauces were homemade, the seasonings and vegetables were self-grown, even the meat was freshly killed. There was no McCormick or Ragu, buying anything premade was outside the Sicilian women’s norm. Potatoes and sweet potatoes had a huge impact on the societies meals; they were considered mores, because they were easy to grow and took long to expire. My grandma use to tell me, “Behind every Italian women is a sack of potatoes.” Whether she was trying to imply that was my Grandpa, she sure did have sacks of potatoes in her house year round. Although candied sweet potatoes are culturally universal, it is the preparation and specific ingredients that differentiates them from other cultures. My Grandmother took great pride in her sweet potatoes; she wouldn’t let anyone help her because she was such a perfectionist. That is, until I came along. Of all my 15 cousins I was the only one that aspired to take any interest in cooking. When I was six years old I started cooking with my Grandma, she taught me all the tricks and secrets behind her recipes. We would practice every time I visited, meal after meal.
Finally, when I was eight that was the first time my grandma ever let anyone help her prepare the Thanksgiving candied sweet potatoes. It was that day the recipe changed forever. With all the commotion of people talking and timers going off, I wasn’t paying attention and accidently knocked a whole cup full of orange juice over, right into the sweet potatoes. It was already to late in the day to start a new batch; livid as grandma was, we had cooked it anyways. Instead of the thick and chunky sweet potatoes that were usually…