The Great Yam War

Two sisters and a Texas-style Thanksgiving throwdown! Which yam recipe would you choose?

Posted in , Oct 8, 2014

Guideposts: Sisters Wanda (left) and Nova

When they said everything’s bigger in Texas, they must have been talking about our family’s Thanksgiving dinners.

Each year some 30 of us gather at my older sister Nova’s house, where every flat surface is covered with food. (If you come over, don’t stand still too long or someone will set a dish on you!)

Turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, JELL-O salad, corn, hot rolls, pie, banana pudding—you name it, we have it. But the yams—a family favorite—stand out. Two kinds compete for attention. Mine and Nova’s.

It all started about 15 years ago. That year I volunteered to bring yams to the dinner since Nova cooks most of the Thanksgiving meal herself. But no sooner had I walked into the kitchen with my platter of tasty yams, than I spied an identical dish on the counter.

“Nova, I told you I was bringing the yams,” I said.

“I know, but I like mine,” Nova said, a might sharply, I thought.

Well, that wasn’t going to happen again. “I’m making the yams this time,” I said the following Thanksgiving. “Don’t make the same thing as me.”

“Fine,” Nova said. She made hers from a different recipe. And that’s how it has been ever since. Two stubborn sisters, two different sides of yams.

I call mine Memaw White’s Sweet Taters, after my mother-in-law. They’re a cinch to make—just dump everything together and stick ’em in the oven. Twenty minutes later you have a sweet, rich dessert that glides right down your throat. The best part? The marshmallows on top, toasted just right. Heaven on earth!

Nova calls hers Gram’s Yams, after her mother-in-law. I’d say they’re more like vegetables than dessert, and, if you ask me, more trouble than mine to make.

You have to bake and refrigerate them overnight, then assemble the dish on the big day. They’re served sliced into oblong pieces and topped off with pecans. I admit—they’re pretty tasty, juicy in fact.

Most family members know enough to sample both of our dishes. Nova and I are watching. Without saying a word, the two of us survey the platters, gauging whose has more leftovers, and shoot each other a look. And so the great yam war continues.

Truth be told, our rivalry is more than spud-deep. Nova was 13 years old when I was born—a surprise to her as well as to my folks. Nova hadn’t expected to be displaced by a squalling infant, let alone one she often had to help care for.

As adults, Nova delighted in giving me advice about marriage and motherhood. Me? I delighted in ignoring most everything she said.

Once, when I snapped at her for bossing me around, she said, “I can’t help it, Wanda. I’ve always mothered you.” Smothered is more like it, I thought.

Last spring my husband and I drove from our home in Texas to visit our farm in Iowa. The following day a searing pain shot through my chest. I was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery to repair a tear in my aorta. The doctor told my husband to be prepared for the worst.

Nova hopped a plane to Iowa as soon as she heard the news. For seven days straight she never left my side in the ICU.

When I was finally moved to a regular room, Nova bought me pajamas and toiletries so that I would be comfortable, or as comfortable as you can be in a hospital.

She sat at my bedside and held my hand. She didn’t say much, but sisters don’t have to. Nova was far from smothering. She was loving, reassuring, exactly what I needed. The great yam war? It all seems so silly now, I thought.

I can’t wait for this Thanksgiving. Sure, I still think that my yams are tastier than Nova’s, and I’m sure Nova thinks the same of hers.

But this year both dishes will be served by two not-so-stubborn sisters who have learned that what’s on the table isn’t really so important. It’s who you share it with. And I’m so grateful for my big sister, Nova, only a Texas-sized prayer of thanks will do.

Try Nova's Gram's Yams Try Wanda's Memaw's Sweet Taters

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