We called them camote and they were buried in our backyard at the foot of the banana trees. My nanny would take the itak (bolo) and stab the dirt where the dark green tops had sprouted, pulling on them until the yams were yanked out of the ground.
After a virtuous washing, the yams were boiled in a pot until tender and served for breakfast with a square of butter. The butter would melt and seep into its dark purple crevices, coating its sweet and soft meat with even more love. We would gobble it up warm, wiping the butter from our chins, licking our lips and then singing:
Ube, or purple yam, was as ubiquitous in the Philippines as weeds in any yard. I remember in a college house I rented they found that the yard had been infiltrated by the tuber crop, forcing the landlord to dig them up and chuck them en masse.
But in New York it wasn’t until the last five years that I’ve seen them in Chinatown vegetable stands, apparently imported from Hawaii where I imagine the climate provides as prolific a life. And now urban farmers’ markets have caught on, and the exotic sweet potato is about to reach infamy in gourmet restaurants. Wait till they hear what Filipinos have made of this purple offender!
How about steamed, baked, boiled, fried, grilled, candied, and made into a jam? Let’s not forget the ube ice cream that tops our favorite dessert halo-halo, a mix of sweetened beans and fruit packed with sugar, ice, milk and flan and you guessed it: even more ube but as a jam.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Below is how to simply bake purple yam for a healthy and tasty snack or dessert. Enjoy!