4/3/11

How to Cook a Wolf's Sweet Potato Pudding

Sometimes I find myself revisiting an old post from this blog and getting really uncomfortable because I realize that I no longer like it—either the photos are blurry and poorly lit or I think I sound whiny or I don’t find the jokes funny anymore and want to delete it from Bon Appetempt entirely. But I don’t. Because this sort of insecurity/self-awareness is normal. (I think?) Because in a way, it’s just like looking at a version of your past self and thinking that your current self is better, smarter, more put together, which I believe is what we have to think. That we are improving, that the past is working, so to speak. Of course, there are plenty of old posts that don’t make me cringe, and funnily enough, this one of me with a stuffed koala? I’m totally fine with it. I bring all of this up because I’m curious as to how I’ll eventually feel about this one, what with a photo of me bon appetempting the cover of such a revered culinary classic.

How to Cook a Wolf's version & our version:
(Many thanks to Jeana for her combo of braid and photo expertise.)

I’ve mentioned M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf on more than a few occasions, but this is the first time I’ve actually made something from it. I chose to do her sweet potato pudding, and if you love sweet potatoes, surely this interests you. If you feel mediocre about sweet potatoes, does the idea of lining the casserole dish with sliced bananas help? It did for me.
Did you know that the flesh of sweet potatoes isn’t necessarily orange? Indeed. Yet another thing I had gone my whole life without knowing until peeling these ones, which revealed themselves to be pale yellow. I knew yams were orange, but just assumed that the sweet potato—so often used interchangeably with the wonderful yam—was also orange. Not so. According to my sources (Wikipedia): “The sweet potato is botanically very distinct from the other vegetable called a yam, which is native to Africa and Asia… To prevent confusion, the United States Department of Agriculture requires that sweet potatoes labeled as ‘yams’ also be labeled as ‘sweet potatoes.’” Now, jump in if you disagree, but doesn’t this seem to promote confusion? If they're so botanically different, why can't yams be yams and sweet potatoes be sweet potatoes?

Speaking of, this one is sleeping. Shhh…
M.F.K. says you can use lemon or orange juice for this recipe. I used an orange, and may I say, the aroma as I mixed the cooked potatoes, butter, brown sugar, orange juice and zest was one of the most heavenly combinations I’ve ever smelled and one that I’m convinced would somehow not have been as good if I’d used a lemon. And so my once mild expectations for the pudding grew—kind of like the initials M.F.K. do when spelled out to reveal: Mary Frances Kennedy. (According to my haphazard research, she bore no relation to the J.F. and R.F. Kennedys. But to be sure, I just ordered An Extravagant Hunger to learn more.)
After dinner, however, when I scooped a few spoonfuls of the baked, not-so-sweet pudding into a bowl and finally tasted the finished product, I was a bit let down. Just a bit. It’s complicated. Fisher is writing during World War II for the homemakers facing wartime shortages when sugar was a luxury item—the recipe only calls for 6 tablespoons and then a bit, “if possible,” sprinkled on top before it goes in the oven. And so, while the pudding is delicious and I have been eating it nightly, Matt basically wants nothing to do with it. And I get it. Lightly sweetened sweet potatoes are a bit of a shock to our normal dessert tendencies (cookies and cream ice cream). Perhaps for our sugared-out palates, it’s less of a dessert and more of a side dish or snack because today I heated up a bowl, sprinkled it with a little salt, and it became a truly delicious, vaguely nostalgic, citrus-y, buttery late afternoon snack.

But next time, to try and win Matt over, I might sauté the bananas in butter and sprinkle with brown sugar before layering the sweet potato mixture on top. Or I wonder if the addition of cream would help make it more pudding-like. What do you think? Will you give this old school recipe a shot? No? What about the braid?
Sweet Potato Pudding via How to Cook a Wolf

6 sweet potatoes
6 tablespoons butter (or vegetable shortening)
6 tablespoons brown sugar
grated rind and juice from 1 lemon or 1 orange
2 bananas (optional)
cinnamon

Peel the cooked or baked potatoes and mash smooth. Add the melted butter and brown sugar, the lemon rind and juice, and beat thoroughly. Pour into a buttered casserole (lined, if you wish, with sliced bananas) […or any other fruit: pineapple, peaches, apples]. Put more brown sugar and a little butter and cinnamon, if possible, over the top, and bake 1/2 hour at 325-350 degrees.
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16 comments:

  1. I love the sleeping potato. The reason I didn't love it is because for some reason it tasted more like mashed potatoes with a pinch of sugar and bananas than pudding... BUT THAT'S JUST ME.

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  2. i love your blog. i loved the pudding and i love your braid. but that's just me. little ol' not-too-much-of-a-sugar-tooth-girl...i'd make it though.

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  3. sleeping potato!! bahahahahah!
    loved the pudding. let me braid your hair all the time!

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  4. hmm....i am not sure if i'd make this. i do LOVE the idea of the bananas on the bottom though. i loved this post and that you brought MFK Fisher to life for us (literally)!

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  5. Maybe you could substitute 6 APPLES for the 6 sweet potatoes? Or just 6 cups of sugar?

    Then again, sweet potatoes are the only food in the entire universe that i don't like, so that disqualifies me from commenting.

    Nice braid!

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  6. That is a very sweet image amelia! I love that look on you!

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  7. No turtlenecks lying around?

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  8. @anonymous hahahahahhahahaha. no!! sadly! no. totally should have picked one up.

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  9. dude. you are cracking me up over here. i want to cuddle with the sleeping potato, but only after i braid your hair and eat this yumminess.

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  10. That dish looks absolutely delicious. You've always got the best recipes! Also, I know the feeling about not liking old blog posts and thinking "oh my, what was I thinking?" but you're right, it is a reflection of how we improve.

    Keep it up lady!

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  11. As the biographer of M.F.K. Fisher I am trying to figure out why I've never thought to mimic her hairstyle while cooking one of her recipes. I am in love with this whole thing!

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  12. i love sweet potatoes but this recipe still doesn't speak to me and here's why: although i guess i get why people think making dessert with sweet potatoes is a good idea (they are called SWEET potatoes after all), to me they are best eaten with savory flavors - roasted with brussel sprouts, mashed with parmesan, or simply, and perhaps best of all, slathered with an ungodly amount of salted butter and sprinkled with cinnamon.

    which is why i bet yours were so good with some salt the next day?

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  13. @Anne Zimmerman! thanks for stopping by. soooo glad you like the post and sooooo very excited to read your book!

    @sara I think you might be right... I also think I'm going to go Google Sweet Potato Pie recipes now. Still curious. ;)

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  14. i like the reflection. that's how i feel when i look at college photos... anyway, what about sweetened condensed milk? had something like that at thanksgiving and it was really good. and i typically prefer savory.

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  15. This is so funny. I love the hairdo. Your culinary curiosity is wonderful and out of that come some very funny blog posts. Thanks for making me laugh.

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  16. Indeed, yams are yams and sweet potatoes are sweet potatoes, but what we call yams here in the USA are actually sweet potatoes. Honest-to-God yams, which are common in Africa, are not commonly found in the US.

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I love hearing from you guys. Thanks!