Luis thoughtfully planned for all the fellows to have Thanksgiving dinner together in Nebaj, and invited us all to bring a dish to share. I decided immediately to bring sweet potato casserole. It seemed that the fates were in support of this decision, because when I got home that day I found a huge bucket filled with camote, the Guatemalan version of a sweet potato. Josefina told me that a woman had been selling them in the market that morning, but was ready to go home, and so she sold about 5 lbs to Fina for 25 quetzales (8 Q to the dollar). She apparently had no plans for the camote, and was graciously willing to share them with me in my attempt at sweet potato casserole.
I had my mom email me my Gramma Kat’s recipe, and bought walnuts for the topping in Antigua, since there were no pecans to be found. Then I headed home where Fina helped me peel all 5 lbs of camote, despite my repeated suggestions that “Oh, that’s probably enough…” (I only needed 6 cups of cooked, mashed sweet potato, after all.) We put the camote on to cook, and I juiced 5 oranges to add to the mix. We bought 5 sticks of butter, a dozen eggs, and a big bag of sugar at the corner tienda while it cooked, and when I returned I mashed the camote in a grinder thing (excuse my ineloquence).
In two huge bowls of 12 cups of cooked sweet potato each (!!), we mixed the orange juice, two sticks of melted butter, 5 or 6 cups of sugar, and 6 beaten eggs. I did little taste tests along the way, and was pleased that it tasted pretty good! For the topping I chopped the walnuts and mixed them with about half a stick of melted butter, a handful of flour, and panella, which is granular molasses that comes in a block, I guess it’s more or less like brown sugar, which is what the recipe called for. I sprinkled the walnut/brown sugar mix on top and we put it in the oven to bake.
We had made more than twice as much as I needed, so I left half at home with my family and took half to Nebaj with me the next day. It turned out to be absolutely delicious, and I was so thrilled. I might even say incandescently happy, because it tasted just like home, and I had made it here, so far away, and had so much fun doing it. Plus my host family really liked it too (especially after I suggested that it was a lot tastier when it was hot, and when they tried it that way, they agreed.) Fina has been teaching me how to cook a lot of Guatemalan dishes, and I was really happy that I was able to show her how to make something that is so traditional for us. All her sisters and neighbors tried some, and they all said they had never had camote prepared that way before, but that they liked it. Fina says next time she has a lot of camote she’s not going to wait for Thanksgiving to make this. Success.