Sweet Potatoes Broiled

Duration: 10 minutes for prep, 15 minutes for cooking
Recommended Ages: 10-13 with adult supervision, 13+ with minimal to no supervision
Serving Size: 7-10 potato rounds
Description: Make and taste a dish influenced by Native American peoples.

Colonial Cooking

Cooking practices of white, Western European colonists evolved as they encountered the different climates, new foods, and people of different cultures. in the New World.  Sometimes European colonists borrowed ideas, cooking methods, and foods from other Europeans. These early settlers were especially influenced by the African peoples they brought with them to the New World and the native peoples they met when they arrived.  

As they discovered many new foods cultivated by native peoples, the first colonists began to grow and eat these new ingredients themselves.  Among the most important were the plants native people called “the three sisters”: corn, squash, and beans. The list also includes chocolate, potatoes, peanuts, pumpkin, tomatoes, blueberries, pineapples, cranberries, turkey, allspice, maple syrup, and sweet potatoes.

Cookbooks in the 16th and 17th centuries indicate some enthusiasm for these ingredients.  By the 18th century, things like potatoes, allspice, pumpkin, and chocolate were commonly used by most cookbook authors.  Some ingredients show up less or not at all. It’s possible that they were being used, but took a while to show up in cookbooks.  Food historians agree that most recipes were being used 50-100 years before they appeared in a published cookbook.

 Mary Randolph, a distant cousin of Thomas Jefferson, published one of the first American cookbooks, The Virginia Housewife.  In it, some ingredients appear for the first time.  Tomatoes were not used much through most of the 18th century, but The Virginia Housewife has two recipes for serving them as side dishes.  Sweet potatoes were another ingredient that was getting popular. Randolph included three recipes for sweet potatoes.

We’ve given you one of our favorite recipes to try at home.

Are you interested in learning how to grow your own sweet potatoes at home?  Check out our activity about growing sweet potato slips.

Sweet Potatoes Broiled

Randolph, Mary. The Virginia Housewife. 1824.
“Cut them across without peeling, in slices half an inch thick, broil them on a griddle*, and serve them with butter in a boat.”

*The word griddle in the 18th century most often referred to a circular flat metal surface which could be suspended over coals. In your modern kitchen, you can use a cast iron skillet or the broiling feature of your oven to achieve the same effect.

1 lbs sweet potatoes
Cooking oil
3 Tbsp salted butter

    1. Scrub your sweet potatoes well, as you will be cooking them with the skin on. Trim off any roots or eyes that may be attached.
    2. Slice your sweet potatoes into half-inch rounds, and preheat your cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.
    3. Add your sweet potatoes to the skillet in a single layer, leaving a little space around each slice. If they are too close together they won’t brown properly.
    4. If you notice your sweet potatoes sticking, you may add a small amount of oil to prevent it.
    5. Once the slices are slightly browned, flip them and cook the other side until browned, and the slices are softened. This takes about 2-4 minutes per side.
    6. Melt butter, and put in a sauce boat or pitcher if you have one.
    7. Serve hot with the butter on the side


This recipe is easily adapted and altered to suit the number of people you’d like to serve. You can also adjust it to match the supplies you have on hand. We think they’re equally tasty without butter but with a little salt.