There are certain holiday foods that grab a hold of us (traditionally speaking) and won’t let go. They form a habit out of our favorite recipes and if they’re missing from the feast, well something just doesn’t feel right. It might be a particular cranberry sauce that graces your Christmas table or potato latkes for Chanukah, cooked just the way your grandmother used to make them.
I’m like this about two foods at the Winter holidays — cranberry sauce and yams. I have made my yams the same way for 25 years. It’s an uneventful but satisfying concoction involving butter, brown sugar, bourbon and cream. It’s not that I don’t enjoy other cooks’ yam creations when I’m a guest in their homes for the holidays, but my yams — in my humble opinion — are still the best.
And let’s face it, how much can you really do with a yam? Variations on a standard theme almost always turn out to be related. So at last weeks Christmas dinner, where I dined in someone else’s house, I took my customary scoop of the yam dish from the buffet table. I was pleased that they were part of the meal, but had no great expectations. After all these were not “my yams.”
But at first bite — brown sugar smacking my lips, oranges doing a jig on my tongue and butter basting the back of my pallet — I was scandalized by the starchy tubular vegetable I had just eaten. These were in fact the best yams I’d ever tasted — damn it. That one instant had made mince-meat of my decades long yam dish history and a new tradition was born.
I was liberal in my compliments on the cooking and the hostess — my stepmother Anne’s cousin Crissa, was generous with her recipe. I’m already planning on doing a test run of my new favorite yam dish for New Years dinner.
Traditions, like everything else, can adapt and evolve with time, a good thing to remember as we head into a new year. Even the most ordinary of things can surprise us, delight us, and put us on a new path of discovery (culinary and otherwise). We only have to say “Please pass the yams.”