Candied Yams
From The Santa Monica Farmers Market

The holidays are a time to indulge but they don’t have to be a time when the value of nutritious, local and seasonal food is forgotten. With some thought, care and maybe a little butter, holiday traditions can be a way to forge lifelong habits in young and/or picky eaters.

For Rufiena Jones, youth education coordinator at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, it was a bright orange side dish that rooted her in the holiday season and opened her palate to more adventurous vegetables.

“I have loved candied yams since I was a kid. I always felt like I was getting away with eating dessert for dinner. They were slightly different every year, as cooking goes, but always warm, sweet and had the right amount of spice. Granny’s special touch, I learned later as an adult, was that cherry extract.

Now that I’m older and want to reduce the amount of sugar I consume, I’ve reduced it a little bit, but the butter stays,” she said. “Candied yams were my gateway veggie dish to other real food like string beans and greens. Paired with candied yams, I was willing to step out of my picky eating comfort zone and try almost anything.”

Her version started with her grandmother’s recipe and uses classic flavors like vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg to represent the warmth of the holidays.

Jones’ dish features the seasonal staple of yams and while she grew up eating them during the holidays it wasn’t until she began working with farmers at the local markets that she realized why some vegetables were only around during certain parts of the year and her contact with the growers has given her a new appreciation for working with the kind of produce only available straight from the growers.

“Yams and string beans are in season during this time, so they fill our plates every holiday season,” she said. “As I learn more, I share it with the kids in our youth education programs, and I also take seasonal items back to my family gatherings.

For example, this year, I plan to make a salad containing apples, persimmons, pomegranates and walnuts to Thanksgiving Dinner as well as a large dish of Candied Yams.”

In her household, Jones’ dishes will be part of a grand family effort.

“We all divide the menu up, and each woman who heads a household will bring a dish or two,” she said.

“Holiday cooking is almost a week-long event. We start buying the ingredients the weekend before.

We start cooking some of the meat items that go in the greens and string beans a few days before.

Most of the time, we begin eating the day before the holiday because 75% of the dishes are complete by then. A few final items are finished cooking the day of the holiday.”

The pre-planning helps ease some of the stress during the holiday itself and allows everyone to enjoy themselves.
“Every year, during our holiday gatherings, I can remember hearing laughter and seeing multiple generations dancing – children, couples, cousins, and the elders – laughing and dancing, and good food was always nearby,” said Jones.
Like many families, Jones’ holidays are an extension of the memories she has of her youth.

“I grew up with two grandmothers who were both amazing cooks. They would make deeply flavorful, home cooked meals all throughout the year, but during the holiday season, they would prepare a spread of all of the classic, soul-food dishes, with homemade cakes and pies too,” she said.

However, she warns against preparing a month’s worth of food for a single day.

“The day after a big holiday, I indulge in that first plate of leftovers. Family members may still come to visit.

We reminisce on the happy things that happened the day before.,” she said.

“But as the day goes on, I can’t bear eating another plate of string beans, we’ve eaten way too much cake and pie, the mac n’ cheese just isn’t as good as it was before, and the kids want pizza again.”

Rufiena Jones is the youth education coordinator at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Visit for more information.

4 medium sized yams
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup of honey
½ cup water
1 stick of butter
1 tsp. vanilla or cherry extract
1 tsp. cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
dash of salt

Boil water in a large pot. Add yams to the boiling water. Cook for 20 minutes, or until soft on outside but slightly fork tender on inside. Remove the yams from hot water and set aside to cool.

Add the butter to a saucepan and begin to melt. Add brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and a bit of salt to the mixture and stir. Add vanilla or cherry extract and stir. Set aside.

Peel the potatoes. Slice into long sections. Use butter to grease a baking dish.

Place the chopped potatoes in the dish. Top with a candied sauce and sprinkle with a little brown sugar and cinnamon. Add to oven and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, basting the potatoes with candied sauce throughout.