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Thanksgiving Holiday Table by Produce Pete

For the next 2 weeks Produce Pete will be talking about an abundance of produce for your holiday tables. There is nothing like fresh produce for your Thanksgiving table. Knowing good produce, how to pick and what to do with it, we'll make your holiday special. Food and family, family and food, what could be better.


Yams - Sweet Potato

Ninety percent of what you see in the stores marked "yams" is actually a variety of sweet potato. The true yam is a tuber that can get as large as 100 pounds and grows primarily in the tropical zones of Africa. The potato with the sweet orange-red flesh that grows in the American South was dubbed a yam by African slaves, and the name stuck.

American sweet potatoes are members of the morning glory family. The rich orange-fleshed variety is harvested beginning in August; the fresh ones that show up on the market then have not been cured. The bulk of the crop is held in a heated, humidity-controlled environment for about a week. This "cures" the potato and converts much of its starch to dextrin and sugar. A cured sweet potato is actually much sweeter than an uncured one and is what usually shows up on the Thanksgiving table.

There are two other varieties of sweet potato that are much less frequently seen these days than the one that masquerades as a yam. The red sweet potato has a yellow flesh that's a bit sweeter than the white sweet potato, which has a white, more fibrous flesh. The red sweet potato has a dark, reddish skin and is in season about the same time as the yam type - starting in September. It keeps better than the white sweet potato, which has a very short season - usually the last couple of weeks in August.

Season

Avoid buying sweet potatoes in June and July, by then most of them have been stored for nearly a year. Uncured sweet potatoes start showing up on the market in late August; cured sweet potatoes arrive around the end of October. By Thanksgiving almost all that are on the market have been cured. The less common white and red sweet potatoes have a much shorter season at the end of the summer.

Selecting

Look for bright-colored, un-bruised skin with no soft spots. Look at the ends of the potatoes, which should be firm. Most sweet potatoes have some fibrous roots on them; these are not a problem.


Rutabaga - Yello Turnip

Each year Americans consume greater quantities of almost every sort of fresh vegetable except rutabagas. This neglected vegetable deserves better. Rutabagas can be cooked like potatoes, and if they're prepared right, they have a creamy, potato like texture and a distinctive taste. They've been a must on my family's Thanksgiving table for years, thanks to my Irish mother. Sure, the rutabaga is homely, but this inexpensive vegetable has a long shelf life, can be cooked in a number of ways, is very nutritious and is generally a terrific, hearty winter vegetable.

Large and squat, a rutabaga looks a lot like a big darkened white turnip with the top and tail cut off. The skin is purple at the top, yellowish below, and the whole root is heavily waxed to prevent it from losing moisture and shriveling. Rutabagas are grown in cooler climates everywhere, but for the U.S> market, Canada grows the best.

Season

Rutabagas are in season from October through early summer.

Selecting

Choose roots that are heavy in the hand for their size, more rounded than pointed; and hard as a rock - with no soft spots. The tops should be purple and bright looking, and the wax should have a good shine on it. You can tell right away if a rutabaga is old, the wax will look dull, and the rutabaga will feel light.

Storing

If you can, store rutabagas in a cool, dark place like a root cellar. Even at normal room temperature, however, rutabagas in good condition will keep for a couple of months.

Preparing

Prepare rutabagas as you would potatoes, or as if they were acorn squash, with a little sweetening (they aren't stringy like acorn squash). We mash them just like potatoes, peel, cube, boil, and mash; add butter, salt and pepper. Or combine with potatoes before mashing for a milder flavor. I love mashed rutabagas straight, they've got a distinctive taste and they really stick to your ribs. They're excellent as a side dish with turkey, roast chicken, pork roast, pork chops, or ham.


Yukon Gold Potatoes

Yukon gold potatoes were introduced to the country in 1980. Where ever potatoes are grown, so are Yukon Gold.

A sweet-tasting potato with a golden color, it retains its color when baked, boiled or fried. The Yukon Gold potato should be cooked whole and without peeling. The nutrients in potatoes are close to the skin and when cooking whole it retains most of the nutrients. Once cut, sprinkle with lemon or apple juice to keep from browning. When baking don't foil wrap--it creates wet, gummy texture inside the potato.

Selecting, Storing and Preparing

Choose firm, clean, smooth potatoes with no cuts. Exposure to light can cause potatoes to have a green appearance and become bitter tasting. Always store potatoes out of the light! Soft dark areas and sprouting of potatoes are not acceptable. Never store potatoes with apples and pears. The potatoes will absorb the apple or pear taste and visa versa.

Mom used to store them under the sink and they stayed real good. The cooler you keep potatoes the sweeter they get.

Recipes with Yams - Sweet Potato

Catherine's Sweet Potato Pie


Additional Resources

Take a look at Thanksgiving Feast Part 2.

Other recipes from Produce Pete.

   

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