Did you ever visit a museum gift shop as a kid? Did you ever beg to have an adult buy you a geode: one of those round sandpapery rocks that look homely on the outside, but reveal crystals inside when you smash them with a hammer?
That’s how I think of the sweet potato: the geode of the produce world.
Sweet potatoes are magic. Imagine the first person who decided to bake this gnarled, rhinoceros-skinned tuber. What a discovery when not only was it edible, it was practically dessert!
They are magic, too, because they are the season’s perfect comfort food. Eating seasonally means being in step with what the seasons feel like. In the fall, as the temperature drops, I want food that is warm. As the trees stand barren, I crave food that is filling. As the sunlight diminishes, I delight in food that is bright. And as the weather grows harsh, I want food that is sweet.
The traditional Thanksgiving meal is a feast of seasonal produce. The sweet potato deserves its place in this feast–no matter what you use to garnish it: butter, pecans, coconut, nutmeg, brown sugar, chile peppers, garlic, maple syrup, apples… the list of sweet and savory potential is as abundant as your imagination.
I tend to enjoy this potato just the way the Wolff’s family has for years, though: baked with just butter and brown sugar (see the recipe). That way, the sweet potato stands center stage to work its enchantment.