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Yamboree's the Place to Be

by Lori Grossman

If you're a yam fan, then clear your calendar for October 18-21, 2006. The 69th annual Yamboree is the place to be.

Gilmer, Texas has hosted the East Texas Yamboree since 1935, only skipping two years during World War II. The population of this Northeast Texas town (normally around 34,000) swells to include nearly 100,000 festival-goers each year. Word has spread far and wide so far that cable's Food Network featured the Yamboree on its program All American Festivals.

Yamboree Events
The 10K Tater Trot is the first Yamboree event and actually takes place the Saturday before the main celebration begins. Other festival activities include the Queen's Coronation and Parade, an Antique/Classic Car Show, Livestock Show, Fiddler's Contest, and Arts and Crafts exhibits. For food-related competitions, check out the Barbecue Cook-Off, and the Home Canning and Yam Pie Contests.

By the way, the Yam Pie contest rules state that the contest is "for plain yam pies only. The pie should have little or no spice, and no extra ingredients . . . The pie is judged on the taste of the potato." That should be some competition.

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After four fun-filled days, the Yamboree winds up with a Barn Dance headlined by top country singers, plus a Street Dance. Then, it's time to head home and fix some sweet potatoes yourself.

Yams vs. Sweet Potatoes
Aren't yams the same as sweet potatoes? Well, no. For the most part, yams have pale yellow flesh, are not at all sweet, and are not grown commercially in the U.S. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, are what you find in the produce section at the grocery store: copper-colored skin and deep orange flesh that is sweet and moist when cooked. Mostly as a marketing technique, sweet potatoes are often referred to as yams, which perpetuates the confusion. But you must admit that "Yamboree" is a lot catchier than "SweetPotato-oree".

Yam & Ham Casserole
I was a bit tempted to call this one "Longhorn Casserole," not only because of its orange color, but because the name reminded me of the outstanding University of Texas football players nicknamed "Ham, Lam, and Jam" in the 1970's!

  • 1-1/2 pounds sweet potatoes
  • 2 cups fully cooked ham, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1-1/2 cups pared, quartered, cored, and sliced Golden Delicious apples
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 2 tablespoons butter
Using a vegetable brush, scrub the sweet potatoes well under running water. Place the unpared sweet potatoes in a large saucepan; add hot water to cover. Cover the saucepan. Bring the sweet potatoes to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, and cook at a low boil for 15 minutes. Drain the sweet potatoes and place them on a wire rack. Let stand until cool.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 2-quart round baking dish; set aside.

Peel the sweet potatoes, removing the thin layer of flesh directly beneath the skin to reveal the bright orange flesh. Slice the sweet potatoes 3/4 inch thick (about 4 cups sliced sweet potatoes).

Arrange half of the sweet potatoes in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Distribute the ham evenly over the sweet potatoes; then scatter the apples evenly over the ham. Arrange the remaining sweet potatoes over the apples; sprinkle with salt and paprika. Set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, stir brown sugar and bourbon to combine. Sprinkle the brown sugar mixture evenly over the ingredients in the baking dish. Dot with butter.

Bake, covered, for 20 minutes. Baste; then bake, uncovered, for an additional 25 minutes. Baste again and serve. Serves 6.

Yummy Yam Balls

  • 3 pounds sweet potatoes (about 6 medium sweet potatoes)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 10 marshmallows
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
Using a vegetable brush, scrub the sweet potatoes well. Place the unpared sweet potatoes in a large saucepan; add hot water to cover. Cover the saucepan. Bring the sweet potatoes to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook at a low boil about 15 minutes, until they are just tender. The cooking time depends upon the size of the sweet potatoes. Drain, and place on a wire rack to cool. Let stand until cool enough to handle.

Peel the sweet potatoes to reveal the bright orange flesh, and place them in a large mixing bowl. Add the salt, pepper, cinnamon, and 2 tablespoons melted butter. Using an electric mixer, beat the mixture on medium-high speed until smooth and fluffy. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9x13-inch baking dish. Set aside.

With your hands, roll the sweet potato mixture around each marshmallow, making 10 balls, each about 2-1/4 inches in diameter. Place them side by side, but not touching, in the prepared baking dish. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter over low heat. Add the corn syrup and brown sugar; stir to combine. Cook over low heat only until the mixture is smooth and blended, stirring constantly.

Pour the corn syrup mixture evenly over the yam balls and sprinkle with the chopped pecans. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Serves 10.

Kickin' Yam Muffins
These muffins have a "secret" ingredient.

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup cold strong coffee
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
  • Microwave-safe ramekins or muffin pan (double paper-lined)
In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cornmeal, salt, and cinnamon. Make a well in the center.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs. Stir in the coffee, melted butter, Tabasco sauce, and sweet potatoes. Add to flour mixture and stir just until moistened.

Spoon batter into the prepared ramekins or muffin pan, filling cups two-thirds full. Baking may have to be done in batches. If using ramekins, arrange in a circle. Microwave on High for 4 to 5-1/2 minutes, rotating pan or rearranging ramekins halfway through cooking time. A toothpick inserted in the center of each muffin should come out clean and dry. Let stand for 5 minutes. These are best served warm.

Gilmer is located in Upshur County not far from Longview and Tyler among the beautiful pine-covered hills and lakes of Northeast Texas. To be a bit more precise, Gilmer is 120 miles east of Dallas, 225 miles north of Houston, and 80 miles west of Shreveport, Louisiana. And here's a bit of trivia for 70's music buffs: Gilmer is the hometown of former Eagles drummer/singer/songwriter Don Henley.

You'll find more information at www.yamboree.com.

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