Sunday Brunch/The Invisible Man: crashed sweet potatoes

Just like last year, around here, Sundays during VeganMofo are all about brunch food! However, I also like to write an entry for Banned Books Week each year, and from time to time I do a "food from literature" feature, so this is a multi-purpose entry.

Unfortunately, I have been so busy this week that I didn't get a chance to write about Banned Books Week until it was already over--it ended yesterday. But just because it's no longer Banned Books week doesn't mean you can't support the cause! Here's what I wrote about Banned Books Week last year:
I wrote about my feelings on banning books in my 2010 Banned Books Week entry, so I'll spare you a second diatribe, but if you care about intellectual freedom, first-amendment rights, or just about being able to read some really good books, I strongly recommend you participate. There are lots of ways to show your support for not banning books. The easiest, and in my opinion, the best, is simply to find out which books are most often banned, and borrow or request them from your library. Libraries can use records of how often a book is checked out to help support the argument against banning that particular book, so not only do you get to read a good book, but you support intellectual freedom! If you're handy with a camera, and have always wanted to read, say, the opening passage from Nabokov's Lolita to an audience, another way to show your support is with the Banned Books Week virtual read-out. You can upload yourself reading passages of your favorite banned books on their YouTube channel! Finally, your local library may be having Banned Books Week events, and I'm always a fan of supporting local libraries. Get involved!
Despite being an avid reader in high school and an English major with a focus on American literature in college and grad school, I never had to read Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man for a class. It was always on my personal "to-read" list, but it was one of those that took me a while to get around to. When I finally picked it up last year, I couldn't believe no one had ever told me: Read this. This is an important book. So I'm telling you now. Above and beyond the story itself, Ellison's writing is beautiful, intelligent without being obscure, powerful without being heavy-handed. But the story he's telling is even more powerful. There isn't enough space here to do full justice to the symbolism-heavy plot, but in brief, a nameless young black man trying to make his way in 1940s America becomes first disillusioned with the struggle to conform to white America's expectations of blacks, and then with the political movements supposedly working for his rights; he aims to find ways black people in America can truly be seen by society.
Anyway, there is a pivotal moment for the narrator early in the book; he has spent much of his life conforming, as I said, to what white people expect from him. While he can't deny the color of his skin, he rebels against his upbringing, and struggles to be completely different from the Southern, small-town black men he was raised among. His--and society's--condemnation of his identity make his life difficult well through his education and his move to Harlem to seek out a job. When things seem their bleakest for him there, he stumbles upon a vendor selling baked yams (sweet potatoes) from a stand. The narrator buys one, and this baked yam, which to him is THE Southern food, THE black man's food, reminds him of his roots, his past, his heritage--and his identity. His sudden surge of pride in his racial heritage is the impetus for a larger event later in the chapter, one that shapes all of the rest of the events in the book. Oh man it is such a good book I'm getting excited writing about it.

Anyway, as you can see, the humble yam has a huge significance in this book. Ellison's narrator has this fantastic 5-page revelation about yams, and describes them in delicious detail. I remember reading this passage on the T and being so hungry for baked sweet potatoes. (For the record, in the US and Canada, the words "yam" and "sweet potato" refer to the same sweet-fleshed, often orange vegetable. The dry, starchy tuber known as a yam in Africa, South American, and parts of Asia is almost nonexistent in the US.)

But you all know how to bake a sweet potato, right? It's simple: Wrap a sweet potato in foil, put the oven on high, and bake it till you can pierce it with a fork. There's no fun in telling you how to bake one...

I used oriental (white-fleshed) sweet potatoes because that's what I had. I doubt Ellison or his narrator would approve. 

I saw a recipe for "Crashed Hot Sweet Potatoes" on the dlynz blog, and I knew it was for me. I can't have hot pepper, so mine weren't Hot; all I had to do to adjust the recipe was leave out the chili pepper ingredients and sprinkle in a little allspice and extra black pepper for a warm flavor. You parboil thick slices of sweet potato (she says she might not parboil them next time, but I found this to be an essential step), crush them slightly, press the spice mixture onto them, then drizzle with olive oil before baking. They make a fantastic side to any meal, but as we like potatoes as a side for our brunches, I especially recommend it alongside a nice scrambled tofu!

Ellison's narrator rhapsodizes about baked sweet potatoes for 5 pages, but when it comes to this recipe, I'll just leave you with these three words: It. Is. Awesome.


Cara said... Best Blogger Tips

What an amazing post, thank ou for sharing! Unfortunately I did not know about banned books week (and it would have fitted my literature theme so well...) even though I just realized I have some books on my to-cook-for-list that have been banned.

Luckily over here there are only books banned for demagoguery (like racist inflammatory pamphlets) others are put on the index and cannot be sold to children (mainly pornographic literature).

Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips

what an interesting and delicious way to cook SPs!

Erinwiko said... Best Blogger Tips

I love this whole post so much! Sweet potatoes are my favourite food in the world, and I've never read The Invisible Man but you've definitely sold me on it. I'll be keeping an eye out for a copy!

Donalyn said... Best Blogger Tips

Thanks so much for mentioning my recipe - I am so glad that you liked it!