Practice perfect sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving

Leah Eskin

Seasonal is in, and we're with the program. Keeps the grocery list chic and cheap.

We're especially keen about micro-seasonal. The chalk-flavored candy heart is sweet — one day a year. Likewise the dyed egg or candy cane. Scarcity, the economist has it, enhances value.

Consider then the cook's conundrum: Many a dish is best celebrated on occasion, at the big occasion. And yet, practice makes perfect. How to reconcile rare with well done?

The puzzle comes to mind in fall, the runup to Thanksgiving. Eyeing the sweet potatoes lolling in their bin, we wonder how early we can call preseason. Will premature puree dampen enthusiasm for the big day?

We boil a batch, mash it fine, season it sweet and spike it with rum. The golden mound with its buttery bite brings to mind the fall feast, but it holds its own on the weeknight plate. Maybe for the potato, practice is perfection.

Preseason Sweet Potatoes

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 20 minutes

Serves: 6 as a side dish

3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into large chunks

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

1/4 cup heavy cream

3 to 4 tablespoons dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons dark rum, optional

Boil: Settle potatoes in a large saucepan. Add cold water to cover by 1 inch. Stir in sugar, salt, cinnamon, black pepper and cayenne. Bring to a boil, lower heat a bit and cook until potatoes turn tender (poke one with a skewer or fork), about 15 minutes.

Dry: Drain potatoes. Return them to the empty pot set over low heat. Shake until potatoes dry out, about 3 minutes.

Rice: Press potatoes through a potato ricer into a large heatproof bowl. Or smash with a potato masher.

Season: Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Gently stir in butter, cream and brown sugar. Add a little more of the spices, if you like. Stir in rum, if you like.

Provenance: Adapted from a recipe by chef Cindy Wolf, Baltimore.