It’s yam time. When I saw yams were next on the list I finally thought I must have been smoking crack when I put this list together, because aren’t yams winter-y? And haven’t we established that spring has sprung? And then I thought, isn’t yam just another word for sweet potato (which I handily defeated in the fall)? Like how corn and maize are kind of the same thing. Aren’t they? I wasn’t really sure about any of this so I decided not to wholly abandon yams until I had consulted an authoritative source, like…my parents, the people who instilled in me absolutely no values about eating fresh food. Naturally.
My folks were in town last week and because they’ve been living in the North for the last few years, my sister and I took them out (I drove, they paid) for some good, home-style Southern food and sweet tea at Daddy D’z BBQ.
While we were settling in and looking at our menus, I noticed Daddy D’z has candied yams as a side. I always, always, always get a pulled pork sandwich with fried okra at Daddy D’z, so varying from this would be a huge, huge deal; even considering the yams kind of gave me hives a little bit, but it was yam week, I couldn’t not consider it. I kept this tortured deliberating to myself for a minute, but then figured I could open up the yam/sweet potato issue to debate and let the table help me decide about dinner.
“Hey y’all, what’s the difference between a sweet potato and a yam?”
Then all at once, everyone had an opinion, no one’s opinion was the same as anyone else’s, and everyone was absolutely sure they were right. Sweet potatoes and yams are the exact same thing. No, they’re not. Yes, they are. I’m pretty sure they’re actually different vegetables in different parts of the world, but we interchange the names for the same vegetable here, so they’re not exactly the same thing. Yes, they are. No, they’re not. I promise, they’re the same thing. No, they’re not. Yes, they are.
Then my mom dropped this bomb on me, “Sweetie, those sweet potatoes we had at Thanksgiving were really yams. That’s all we have up there.” That led to a discussion over whether that means there is a difference or there isn’t a difference, because was what she was saying about yams semantics and labeling and regional preferences or a true botanical difference? And then I had to consider whether that meant I already won yams, because if I did I wasn’t going to vary my pulled-pork-and-fried-okra routine that night.
Then our sweet, meek little server came to take our order:
“Hi, do y’all know what you’re going to…?” She whispered.
“What’s the difference between sweet potatoes and yams?” I asked, louder than I needed to.
She looked at me like I was just a little bit crazy. Why do people keep looking at me like that? Do I have something in my teeth?
She finally stammered, “I don’t know….” I was just about to let her off the hook when she said, “But the yams on the menu are really sweet potatoes.” Sold. I ordered the okra.
But alas, we were not done with yams. My dad, who likes to think of himself as the authority on all things other people do not know (which means he can basically always be right…a gene I most certainly inherited), was positive he was right about sweet potatoes and yams being the same thing and vowed to search The Google when we got home to prove to us that he was right. My mom, who mostly speaks in squeaks and exclamation points, chimed in, “Your daddy is good at The Google! He looked up the difference between ice cream and gelato the other night!”
And then, as if all this fun happening at my project’s expense was not enough entertainment for my parents, my dad ordered onion rings. I don’t know if my dad just doesn’t love me or enjoys watching me suffer and squirm, but what is it with him and tormenting me with onions? What it is it with all you people and onions? To date, I’ve added like 27 new vegetables to my diet. Twenty-seven. I know a lot of you know me and at least some of you are reading the blog, so can we all agree that for anyone 27 new vegetables in any period of time would be a big deal, but especially for me, especially in less than a year, 27 new vegetables is a big, hairy, fucking deal…? Why are all of you and my dad so obsessed with the fucking onion? It is totally nonessential.
So the onion rings came out piping hot and, I have to admit, smelling great because they’re fried. I would eat, as my dad says, shoe leather if it was fried. But not onions. Then my mom said, “Ooh, Julie! Would you do it for a hundred dollars?! I have a hundred dollars!” Do I look like an onion whore to you? No way am I eating an onion for a hundred dollars.
“I’ll take $10,000.” And I stuck out my hand.
My dad looked at me. I looked at him. Long seconds passed. He was actually considering it.
Then my mom said, “But you have to like it!”
“Oh, I’ll like it. I’ll like shoe leather for $10,000.”
My dad was still staring me down, still considering the deal. My hand was still extended. I, of course, knew I would never have to eat an onion, because there was no way in hell I was going to get a dime out of my parents for anything more than mowing the lawn, but our Mexican standoff taught me something: even as a grownup, I can still stomp my feet and refuse to eat what my parents put in front of me. Oh, how far I haven’t come. My dad caved first and dropped the onion ring. I win.
At home, my dad did search The Google and we did finally get to the bottom of the yam debate. We were all right. I found this on the Library of Congress’s Web site on a page called Everyday Mysteries, Fun Science Facts from the Library of Congress (what a barrel of laughs those guys must be):
- Yams… Yams are closely related to lilies and grasses. Native to Africa and Asia, yams vary in size from that of a small potato to a record 130 pounds (as of 1999). There are over 600 varieties of yams and 95% of these crops are grown in Africa. Compared to sweet potatoes, yams are starchier and drier.
- Sweet Potatoes… There are many varieties of sweet potatoes. The skin color can range from white to yellow, red, purple or brown. The flesh also ranges in color from white to yellow, orange, or orange-red. Sweet potato varieties are classified as either ‘firm’ or ‘soft’. When cooked, those in the ‘firm’ category remain firm, while ‘soft’ varieties become soft and moist. It is the ‘soft’ varieties that are often labeled as yams in the United States.
- Why the confusion? In the United States, firm varieties of sweet potatoes were produced before soft varieties. When soft varieties were first grown commercially, there was a need to differentiate between the two. African slaves had already been calling the ‘soft’ sweet potatoes ‘yams’ because they resembled the yams in Africa. Thus, ‘soft’ sweet potatoes were referred to as ‘yams’ to distinguish them from the ‘firm’ varieties.
- Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires labels with the term ‘yam’ to be accompanied by the term ‘sweet potato.’ Unless you specifically search for yams, which are usually found in an international market, you are probably eating sweet potatoes!
So since I have an international farmers’ market right up the road, yam week is back on.
In other news, I’m going to tack on some waxing philosophical bits to the end here.
If you’re not watching my new favorite show Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution let me know so I can hunt you down and harangue you until you do. I did this to my parents when they were here and it went something like this, “Mom! Dad! OMG! It. Is. The. Best. Show. Ever. We are totally watching it when we get home! I have four episodes on DVR! We’re watching all of them! You will love it! I promise!” I won’t lie, I was a little squeaky and exclamation-y, prompting my dad to search in vain for my off button. But then we watched one episode, and then we watched three more, and now they’re total converts. My mom went home and bought Jamie Oliver’s cookbook and starting cooking with it and then….wait for it…called me for cooking advice. The student becomes the master.
I’ve been pretty obsessed lately with some other incredibly fabulous blogs out there on the interwebs and think you should be, too, including two totally unlikely gems (because of their topics, not because it’s a surprise that they’re fabulous): OMGMom and lumpsonablog, which leads me to…
JVV won a Happy 101 award! Lumpsonablog said JVV has the best commentary on vegetables ever…thanks, jlump.
So now I get to give out the award to JVV’s favorite blogs:
- OMGMom—navigating new mommyhood with a wicked sense of humor
- Lumpsonablog—awesome, easy vegetarian recipes (and let’s be fair, I need all the help I can get in this department); insights on how to be the most laidback mom ever (to the most stunningly beautiful babies); and general cuteness
- Project 29 to 30—the hilarious adventures of Steph trying something new every day between her 29th and 30th birthdays, a total riot
- See Cat Run—a beautifully designed site chronicling Caroline’s quest to eat well and run far; I get great ideas from her and hope she will one day agree to be my coach and nutritionist for free