Thanksgiving Sweet Potatoes for ESL Students

For many Americans, sweet potatoes are a traditional part of Thanksgiving dinner. If you come from another country, you may not be familiar with this vegetable. This is what you would like to know.

Sweet potatoes, especially soft ones, are often called “yams,” but they’re not really the same thing. Yams are native to Africa and Asia. Sweet potatoes are native to South America (but are now grown in many other warm regions). Long ago, African slaves in the Americas began calling sweet potatoes “yams.” Today, most people in the US and Canada do the same thing. But royal yams are very rare in the Americas. You can usually only find them in stores that sell imported foods.

Sweet potatoes can be cooked in the same way as white potatoes. Unlike white potatoes, they can be used to fill cakes. This is popular in the southern states.

For Thanksgiving, sweet potatoes are usually specially prepared. One way to do this is:

  • bake them
  • cut them in half
  • Take out most of the interior.
  • Toss the insides with butter, spices, and maybe sugar.
  • Put the interior back into the skins.
  • Put butter and breadcrumbs on top
  • Bake again until the breadcrumbs are golden brown.

Some recipes tell you to put marshmallows on top of the sweet potatoes. Americans have strong feelings about it. For example, the joy of cooking, a famous cookbook by Irma Rombauer and Marion Becker, says, “These are a matter of taste or, in our strongly biased opinion, lack of taste.” Diane Morgan, author of the thanksgiving tablesays, “I’m hesitant to write such a recipe because I don’t like sticky-sweet topping.”

For other people, though, it wouldn’t feel like Thanksgiving without marshmallows in the sweet potatoes. The important thing is to cook them as you and your family like best. Some sweeter ingredients you can try are brown sugar, syrup, and fruit.

If you think Americans like sweet potatoes too much, wait until Christmas when they start talking about fruitcake.

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