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Keep Your Thanksgiving Day Side Dishes Simple

Baked Sweet potato served with butter, sugar, cinnamon, and a twist of lemon  
Previous to the arrival of the sweet potato, most West Africans used yams in the absence of bread. Soon many other substitutes were available. Indonesian traders introduced the cocoyam from Southeast Asia; shortly thereafter, the cocoyam became part of the everyday meals of West Africans. This was especially pertinent in the equatorial forest regions. Because yams were such an essential part of this region’s culinary traditions, some nicknamed it the “yam belt.” By the nineteenth century, African Americans had clearly established a penchant in the south for yams and sweat potatoes. African-American cooks continued to grow and cook with yams and sweet potatoes. They consumed these staples like bread in the same way that their descendants had done in West Africa. By the mid-nineteenth century, slaves in Virginia had influenced their masters to eat the tubers the same way. At a big house table on a Virginia tobacco plantation, Journalist Frederick Law Olmsted recalled, “There was no other bread, and but one vegetable served—sweet potato, roasted in ashes, and this, I thought, was the best sweet potato, also, I ever had eaten. . . .”

Sweet Potato Recipe:
I can recommend no better side dish for thanksgiving than a simple oven baked yam or sweet potato, baked in the oven in a cast iron skillet or cookie sheet for about an hour until the natural sugar just seeps out and caramelizes. I serve mine to my kids sliced down the middle and served with butter, a little sugar, cinnamon, and perhaps a squeeze of lemon juice. Use organic yams or sweet potatoes, they a lot sweeter than conventional ones. In my house we eat them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. 

The Herkimer County Origins of a Thanksgiving Side Dish

This Week in Food: Thanksgiving Day Shows