Sideglances
by SARAH GREENE
sgreene@etex.net
Oct 25, 2012 | 917 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
JUST IN TIME for the 75th Yamboree, the October issue of Southern Living magazine arrived in my mailbox. It features sweet potato recipes in its “’What’s Cooking Now” section.

What constitutes “the South” is open to debate. The Census Bureau assigns

16 states to the region then divides them into West South Central, comprising Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana; South Central and East South Central, the whole extending as far north as Maryland and Delaware.

A map designed for students, prepared by the Oracle Education Foundation, shows Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona as making up the Southwest.

Whatever the boundaries, when it comes to the region’s culture, Southern Living makes lively reading, especially if you’re talking folkways.

THOUGH I have always loved the Yamboree, my secret shame is that I don’t like sweet potatoes, or the varieties we know as yams. I do like yam pies, and have greatly enjoyed gifts acquired from Upshur County’s good cooks who show off their talents at this season each year.

Southern Living editors, who run what they bill as “the South’s most trusted kitchen” offer recipes that call for “garnet gems” that are “officially a super food,” loaded with vitamin A, vitamin C and only 105 calories.

This caught my attention, since I have always thought that only yams should be called “garnet gems,” not to be compared with paler, scrawnier sweet potatoes.

Turns out I was wrong (not for the first time).

IT SEEMS that the sweet potatoes and yams sold in most stores are the same vegetable—sweet potatoes are inside every mislabeled yam can; true yams are not sold anywhere except a handful of specialty grocers.

A website labeled marksdailyapple.com explained, in part:

In the United States, most tubers sold as yams are actually members of the sweet potato family. Your Garnets, your Jewels, the “yams” with the rich orange flesh and reddish-brown exterior, are, botanically, sweet potatoes.

In fact, it’s quite likely that [many readers] have never tasted a true yam. The reason for this discrepancy is simple marketing. [In the 20th century] when orange-fleshed sweet potatoes were introduced into the United States, they were labeled “yams” to avoid confusion with the common white-fleshed sweet potato Americans were already enjoying. “Yam” was derived either from the Spanish “name” or Portuguese “inhame,” both of which come from the Wolof [African] word “nyam,” which means “to sample” or “to taste.”

SWEET POTATOES, or Ipomoea batata, are native to South America, where they were domesticated at least 5,000 years ago. They’re also common in Polynesia, and radio carbon dating of sweet potato remains in the Cook Islands places them at 1,000 AD, with most researchers figuring they date back to at least 700 AD. . .

Real yams hail from the Dioscorea family of perennial herbaceous vines and include dozens of varieties, some of which grow to over eight feet long and weigh nearly 200 pounds.

The name Yamboree was used because the (sweet potato) yam had been a major cash crop in the area during the 1930’s. Yam growers had been under a quarantine because of a weevil infestation but by 1935 the ban was lifted and yams were once again being shipped.

The Southern Living section includes recipes for Sweet Potato Fettuccine,which involves frying thin potato slices; Creole Shrimp and Sweet Potato Grits, Sweet Potato Crostini with Goat Cheese and Grape Salsa, Roasted Sweet Potato Salad and Roasted Sweet Potato-and-Onion Tart.

They all sound tasty, but if I try any of these recipes I’ll be using yams.

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