Home, Sweet Potato Home

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Home, Sweet Potato Home

By Andrea Goto

Sweet Potato Bake

The sweet potato has been good to me, unlike her temperamental cousin, Mr. Russet, whose popularity has totally gone to his head¬. Whenever I cast him in a feature role, like potato salad or mashed potatoes, he gets all complicated and moody. He’s too firm for the salad, too lumpy for the mash. I’m over him.

Meanwhile, sweet potatoes live a modest existence, making obligatory appearances at Thanksgiving and Christmas when we suffocate them with mini marshmallows (an offense to any food) or puree them into pie filling only to unfavorably compare them to pumpkin. In the off-season, they slip from our memory like a New Year’s resolution.

Up until ten years ago, I never had a sweet potato. They didn’t even play a part in the holidays of my youth. My mom thought sliced rutabagas covered in brown sugary syrup were a less cliche and more dignified choice. Swallowing their bitter woodiness was like eating unlit cigarettes, or so I imagined.

If Mom preferred rutabagas, then dear God, what must sweet potatoes be like?

My virgin sweet potato experience came shortly after moving to the South. The steaming potato had been baked and lightly dusted with cinnamon and sugar. The insides cupped a golden pool of melted butter, opening my eyes to a whole new world of potato.

After enjoying every variation on the theme–sweet potato pie, fries, soup, chips, mash, casserole, and even burrito–I welcomed Paula’s Sweet Potato Bake with open oven mitts. No frying, sauteing, dicing or coring in this “easy” recipe. This would be like how my husband does laundry–just mix it all together.

But I quickly discover that the Sweet Potato Bake involves math, increasing the difficulty exponentially. Even worse than calculus, it’s the most daunting form of math: cooking math. A labyrinth of weights, measurements and conversions that would befuddle Stephen Hawking.

It begins with the potatoes. The recipe calls for 3-cups. I hope to buy them pre-mashed to avoid the issue of measuring. The grocery sells pre-sliced apples with the unnatural ability to resist browning for a month, but I can’t get pre-mashed sweet potatoes?

I reluctantly select three whole potatoes under the assumption that 3 sweet potatoes about equals 3 cups.

The recipe also calls for a 1-½ quart dish but I’ve always been a little spatially challenged (I was the kid gnawing on the edges of the square peg so it would fit in the round hole). I do know that “quart” has something to do with the number four, like a quarter is one-fourth of a dollar and a quarterback is–well–my husband will enlighten me when he comes home. But a quart is one-fourth of what?

I pull out every dish, saucepan and skillet, examining the underneath of each piece to find a comparable measurement. The 9 by 13 dish I intended to use holds 4 quarts, so I grab a much smaller dish only to discover that its volume is given in liters, and while I can work the etymology of quart, the liter confounds me.

I opt for the small dish and hope for the best.

Surprisingly, things go well after surmounting the Math Olympiad challenge. The topping easily transforms into a gooey-sweet mega praline that I pick at while beating the potato mixture. I can’t get all of the lumps out, but I pick my battles.

I pour the mixture into the casserole dish. A perfect fit. Grabbing a permanent marker, I quickly scribble “1-1/2 quarts” on the side of the dish for future reference. I sprinkle the scant remains of praline on top and a take a moment to admire my work before putting it in the oven.

You must understand that for me “cooking” means using a fork to pierce the plastic cover of a frozen dinner. Otherwise I stick to two-piece meals, such as peanut butter and jelly, chips and salsa, and milk and cereal.

Therefore, baking without incident is remarkable. Having it taste good? Priceless.

I could credit myself for correctly intuiting the size of the casserole dish and the number of potatoes needed. I could even fool myself into thinking that perhaps I have a fraction of Little Susie Homemaker potential. But let’s give credit where credit is due: if happiness were a food, it would taste like a sweet potato.

Editor’s Note:  Hopefully this will help if the marker ever washes off your baking dishes!
Just remember 4 cups = 1 quart

Baking dish sizes you may or may not have around the house:
8x8x2= 8cups=2quarts
11x7x1.5 Rectangle Dish=8cups=2quarts
13x9x2 Rectangle Dish=15cups=3.75quarts (use this for a 4 quart recipe)

Andrea Goto lives and writes in Savannah, Georgia. Her kitchen experiments (known as “cooking” in more conventional homes) most often end with a mushroom cloud of smoke or a call to Poison Control. In spite of this, she’s deeply loved by her husband who prefers neon-colored cereals to all foods homemade, and her 3-year-old daughter who will eat almost anything, as long as you call it “chicken.” Need more Andrea? Follow her at www.andreagoto.com

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Reader Comments:

We always had sweet potatoes, Gramma was from the “hills” (Clarksville, Ar) but loved the humor and the story. I have know a few friends that would fit this article when we were all young and first marriedl Thanks for the smile, Barbara

By canocat65 on December 29, 2009

Great article…too funny!! Are you sure you haven’t been in my kitchen watching me…lol

Keep writing…you are awesome!!!

By Terri on December 21, 2009

Great article!  I love your writing style and you certainly helped me with the math.  I sew and can do the math there but for some reason cooking leaves me digit-less!  I grew up eating sweet potatoes but never a casserole until marriage and MIL taught me how and now mine is the requested one for family/holiday dinners.  I am gonna keep reading, please keep writing!

By Quen on December 18, 2009

Wonderful Article!

By Ava Kinsey on December 14, 2009

I loved this little article. You have mastered the art of kitchen math as far as I am concerned. You will never know how helpful your dish pan breakdown was!! I laughed throughout this whole article! Thank you!!

By Kim Putman, cooking novice on November 22, 2009

My Daddy one time asked if he could take with him my biscuits cause he was mad at a neighbor and needed to break his windows.

By Ruth Lewis RN, School Nurse on November 22, 2009

I can’t wait to try this recipe!

By Sarah Renee on November 17, 2009

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