Thanksgiving in my household has always been small but happy. We were a small family (I say were because with four kids, my brother has changed that dynamic). My early childhood was spent in Upstate New York; maple country. Thanksgiving meant the transition between the beautiful golds and reds of autumn to the dreary cold of grey winter.
We did have one thing to look forward to during the winter (other than snowmobiling and snow days from school), and that was maple syrup. Children in that part of the country are raised on the sickly sweet maple candy. Even if we never actually did it, we learned how to stick a spigot in a maple tree and anticipate the painfully slow drip of the maple sap. Aunt Jemima has no place in a Northern New York/New England home. Even as a kid, the typical American candied yam concoction – with marshmallows and brown sugar – sent my stomach into convulsions. It wasn’t until we moved away from maple country that I tried yams for the first time with the sweet nectar of the maple tree. From that point on, it’s been a staple on my Thanksgiving table.
Here’s my recipe – translated from memory.
Four yams (or sweet potatoes), peeled and cut to 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup pecans
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put yams in a 9 x 13 roasting pan. In a small saucepan, heat syrup, butter and spices till butter is melted. Pour mixture over yams. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until the yams are tender (about 30 minutes). Add pecans and put mixture under broiler for until pecans are just brown (less than five minutes).
For some, especially the young ones, maple syrup can be an acquired taste, but one definitely worth acquiring. If you like orange zest, you can add a bit. Dried fruit, especially cranberries, also make a beautiful touch.