Weekly Farmers Market Digest: Garnet Yams

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Farmer Greg Nauta and Nicole Rucker of Cofax show off the garnet yams from Rocky Canyon Farms.

Until chatting with farmer Greg Nauta of Rocky Canyon Farms at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market, I had no idea that what I’d always thought to be a yam wasn’t actually a yam, but a soft variety of sweet potato.

Actual yams are starchy, edible roots, indigenous to Africa and Asia. They have a bark-like skin and either purple or reddish flesh. Which begs the question: Why are some sweet potatoes referred to as yams? Well, there are two major types of sweet potatoes grown in America: firm sweet potatoes that have a pale yellow flesh; and soft sweet potatoes with an orange flesh. The firm ones were the first varietal commercially produced in the States. However, once the soft varietal became commercially available, markets needed to find a name that would enable shoppers to easily differentiate between the two. Because the soft, sweet potatoes bore slight resemblance to yams, stores began calling them yams, and the name stuck. So when you take a bite of candied yams this Thanksgiving, remember that the unsung sweet potato deserves thanks, too.

Garnet Yams from Rocky Canyon Farms
Rocky Canyon Farms’ garnet yams. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Farmer Greg Nauta, of Rocky Canyon Farms, is probably best known for his cuts of top-quality beef, but he grows some of the best yams (cough) sweet potatoes around. More than ten years ago, he set out to find a yam with a deep orange flesh that would turn sweet, creamy and moist when cooked. Since discovering this perfect garnet yam, it’s been the only variety he’s ever grown. Greg’s garnet yams make great homemade “sweet potato fries.” They’re also delicious enjoyed simply like a baked potato, which is how Greg prefers to eat them, with a drop of OJ and a dollop of butter.

My favorite part of a Thanksgiving dinner is dessert, so I’m grateful for a slice of warm pumpkin pie smothered in whipped cream, but what my indulgent heart truly yearns for is a slice of sweet potato pie.

Pie contest champion Nicole Rucker, who is also chef and co-owner of Cofax, was inspired to develop her own sweet potato pie recipe after returning from a recent trip to Martha Lou’s Kitchen in Charleston, South Carolina. Martha’s pie had chunks of candied sweet potatoes mixed in pureed mash and stuffed between a bottom and top pastry crust. Perfect for Thanksgiving, you can find Nicole’s Thanksgiving Rustic Sweet Potato Pie recipe here.

If you’re curious to try any of Nicole’s Thanksgiving pies, she’ll be selling them by the slice at her pie salon this Saturday and Sunday from 4–8PM at Cofax. So bring your pie questions, learn insider baking tricks and exchange pie recipes with Nicole. It’s a great opportunity to figure out what pie to bake this Thanksgiving, so that you can bring home the title of M.V.P. (Most Valuable Pie-Baker).