Thursday, December 26, 2013

Recipe: New England Sweet Potatoes with Maple Syrup


I adapted this recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, In a Vermont Kitchen by Amy Lyon and Lynne Andreen.  In their recipe, the Eagle's Lodge deep-fries sweet potato (also known as yam) wedges and serves them with pure Vermont maple syrup as a dipping sauce.  It made me want to take a trip to Vermont just to try it!
A few years ago, I was in charge of bringing the sweet potato dish to Thanksgiving dinner at my Mom's house.  I was tired of the same-old mashed sweet potatoes with butter and I like to try new recipes, so I searched my cookbooks for something different to do with a 5-pound box of the orange spuds.  This came out great and it has been requested at each holiday since.  The maple syrup really complements the sweet potato taste, it caramelizes and browns the vegetables, and the syrup becomes a thick glaze!
I've also thought about adding one or two diced apples towards the end of the cooking time, which is a combination I saw in my Colonial-cooking book.  Has anyone tried this, and how did it turn out?
If using a cast-iron pot, you can also experiment with cooking on top of a wood stove, in the fireplace hearth, or on a camp-fire.  I used to work at the Noah Webster House in West Hartford, Connecticut, as a museum teacher.  Noah Webster lived during colonial times and was the brains behind Webster's Dictionary, as well as a noted author and early abolitionist.  The colonial house where he grew up is now a museum and I was one of the teachers who would dress up in colonial attire (complete with mob cap!), give tours, and demonstrate hearth cooking.  This dish would be perfect for hearth cooking, and I bet many clever early New England women must have thought of pairing sweet potatoes with maple syrup, the main sweetener in early America when sugar cane was expensive and scarce.

Ingredients:
5 lbs. sweet potatoes (about 5 large or 10 small)
1/2 cup vegetable oil or unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup pure maple syrup

1. Choose a cast-iron pot with lid that will fit all of your sweet potatoes with a few inches to spare.  (If you don't have cast-iron, a regular pot can be used, although the cast-iron browns food beautifully and is very "old New England".)
2. Wash and peel the sweet potatoes. Cut into bite-size chunks.
3. Add the oil to the pot and heat over medium heat on the stove.  Add the sweet potatoes and stir well to coat.  Fry the potatoes, using a spatula to occasionally scrape the bottom and stir, for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.  It's OK if they start to look a bit mashed.  Add a little more oil and reduce heat if they start to stick to the pot too much.
4.  Add the maple syrup to the pot and stir to coat.  Cook an additional 5-10 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and the syrup is thickened.

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