When I think of sweet potatoes, I think of my Grandma Hill and of Thanksgiving. The youngest of 10 children, Grandma Hill began life as a farmer’s daughter in Duplin County, NC. Over time she would become a farmer’s wife, mother and eventually grandmother. She moved and loved like someone who’s work was never done and rarely noticed. Grandma Hill was strong, always digging in the yard under a white brimmed hat, or making work in her kitchen look easy. She was matter of fact and not particularly warm or fuzzy. My mom always looked up to her and my grandma always protected my mom.
From covered dish lunches and potlucks at church, I had seen the span of candied yam ideas out there. Even if I wasn’t obliged to taste, I was fascinated by the toasted marshmallow versions and the pecan, brown sugar streusel concoctions folks from my church placed on the endless buffet. Were these dessert? Were they safe?
Knowing what I know now, I bet they were freaking delicious, but my Grandma Hill had made me a vegetable snob, and I never even dipped the communal spoon into one of these fancy casseroles. Grandma Hill insisted that sweet potatoes as a vegetable side, candied yam-like or not, should not be muddled down by too much sugar or fluff. She did not tolerate excess in her vegetables and felt they should taste like themselves.
I’d like to think I learned a few things about vegetables from Grandma Hill. I would love for her to sit down at my Thanksgiving table, try my sides and give me hell.