Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Mashed sweet potatoes, side viewThis has been one busy week. On top of regular work projects that needed attention and various urgent home repairs, I had to complete an 8,000 word essay for the journal Food and Foodways. I submitted a proposal last spring to write an essay on the Birmingham Public Library Archives collection of interviews of the people of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and it was accepted. You may have heard of Gee’s Bend’s Quilts; they have become nationally and internationally famous, touring around the country and inspiring books, plays, and museum exhibitions. But my interest in Gee’s Bend has to do with food. The Archives happens to have about 30 interviews of “Gee’s Benders” from the late 70s and early 80s; and Gee’s Benders talk to their interviewer about growing up this isolated part of Alabama in the early to mid-twentieth century. Though they talk about quilts, politics, and religion, one of their favorite subjects is traditional soul food: collard greens, black eyed peas, cornbread, pork, and of course, sweet potatoes.

Whole Sweet TatersThough I had an entire summer to write this article, I did not actually begin writing until about a month ago when my other work at the Library seemed to settle down a bit. But of course, things never settle down like you think they will, and this final week of writing was filled with early mornings, long days, and late evenings. Then, in the middle of the week, when I didn’t have a moment to think about cooking, Glenn brought home the first of this season’s sweet potatoes. I got home from work on Wednesday night, tired and cranky, and saw them sitting on the counter, just another thing needing my attention. I thought about looking up a recipe or two, wondering what fancy schmancy thing I could do with them, but I just couldn’t do it. I was exhausted. 

So, I did the absolutely simplest thing I Sweet potato, split side viewcould do: I washed them, poked them with a fork, and threw them in the oven to roast for about an hour while I watched House Hunters…er, I mean CSPAN. When they were tender, I split them in half, scooped out the meat, and mashed them in a bowl with butter, brown sugar and sea salt. That’s it. That was dinner. Comfort food in a bowl. The people of Gee’s Bend didn’t mess with any butter, brown sugar, and sea salt, but I think they would have approved. To make a long week’s story short, I got my essay turned in on Friday, but with a little help from some mid-week soul food that absolutely lived up to its name.

 Sweet Potatoes, all mashed upMashed Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes (I used two big ones)

about 1/4 cup of brown sugar

about a 1/2 stick of butter (4 tablespoons)

between 1/2 and a full teaspoon of sea salt

Wash (scrub if you’re scareda dirt) and poke holes in sweet potatoes (to let the steam escape). Roast them in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour. My sweet potatoes were big and took a whole hour. DO NOT TAKE THEM OUT EARLY–they will be kind of tough and stringy and just no fun. I put mine in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients and mashed them with a potato masher, but feel free to use a mixer if you don’t like yours with some lumps. Because the size of sweet potatoes varies (don’t worry, size doesn’t matter, unlike what some people tell you), test the butter/sugar/salt ratio until you find something you like. I particularly love sea salt in this recipe. The coarseness of the salt granules means they don’t quite melt all the way, and a little salty grain is nice with such a sweet vegetable. If you’ve got it, I would recommend some pork ribs or collard greens with these (Gee’s Benders knew what they were doing).

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