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From scratch: Maple-glazed sweet potatoes [RECIPE]

Grist / Shutterstock

Candied yams -- those deep orange, overcooked tubers that were too sweet and too uniform in texture -- were never a favorite of mine. Topped with marshmallows, the dish is often made with canned yams, earning them a comparison to candy. But the nuanced flavor and crispy skins of real yams or sweet potatoes can get lost in this "traditional" mid-century preparation -- not to mention many of the vitamins you get from the fresh, unpeeled version.

Cathy Erway

Sweet potatoes, or “yams” as they’re often called in the U.S. (true yams are something else entirely), are easy to find in most farmers markets this time of year, and I tend to prefer the soft, orange-fleshed varieties to the firmer yellow or white ones. Also in season in many parts of the country is maple syrup, nature's candy-like glaze -- and it's better than marshmallows. With the skins left on, real sweet potatoes can be sliced on the bias, basted with maple syrup and oil, and roasted until they are slightly crispy on the edges with an irresistibly soft orange interior. Unlike their canned counterparts, these treats are perfectly natural and pretty good for you too.

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From scratch: Pumpkin pie [RECIPE]

Grist / Shutterstock

If you're accustomed to roasting a winter squash and then scooping out the soft flesh to make soup, then you can create a pumpkin pie easily without canned pumpkin. You can roast the squash and let it cool while you're working on the crust. I won't lie; making an entire pie from scratch can take some time, but it gets easier with time.

Cathy Erway

The best thing about using fresh winter squash instead of the canned puree is variety of flavors. In my opinion, just about every other type of winter squash is better for pie-making than classic round pumpkins. Butternut, acorn, kabocha (the nutty Japanese variety), and most any other deep orange-fleshed squash works beautifully. Actual pumpkins tend to be fairly watery and stringy once cooked. For this pie, I used a carnival squash that had been adorning my apartment since the beginning of October -- it had green and white speckles on orange skin, and looked a bit like a fireworks display.

In the end, no one could tell what type of “pumpkin” I'd used in my pie, least of all that I had salvaged my Halloween decoration for this dessert. With a bit of caramelization, that roasted squash tasted much better than the average can o' pumpkin mush, and required less sugar than most recipes, too.

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From scratch: Green bean casserole [RECIPE]

Cathy Erway
Grist / Shutterstock

The processed food industry has shaped our holiday meals in more ways than we'd probably like to admit. On Thanksgiving, in particular, you can find nearly every aspect of the feast inside a can or box in the supermarket: from cranberry sauce, gravy, pie fillings, stuffing, and canned pumpkin to instant mashed potatoes. But how satisfying are these substitutes for truly homemade comfort food?

Since we're all about going without processed food here at Grist (for our health and the health of the planet), we decided to put some classic Thanksgiving dishes to the test by making them without any canned or instant fixes. First up is the green bean casserole, traditionally made with a can of condensed mushroom soup. This dish was popularized in the 1950s, just as Magic Chef ovens, Corningware casserole dishes, and the all-American Campbell's soup were gaining popularity.

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