Fallen leaves are romantic in Europe (classic chanson by Edith Piaf) and nuisance in New Zealand (blowers for your lawn), but in Japan they are for roasting kumara. Japanese sweet potatoes are related to New Zealand kumara, but less watery, great for roasting.
I have a fond memory of roasted kumara served by an old lady next door. It was an old house with traditional stove in the kitchen. In those days (many decades ago) houses weren’t locked and children simply popped into their neighbours’. “Here you are, Sono-chan. Have some Yaki-imo (roasted kumara).” As a little girl I frequented her household for the treat.
Today you occasionally come across a vender selling Ishi-yaki-imo (stone-roasted kumara) on the street and fairs in the park. When we moved to New Zealand I brought from Japan a clay pot for roasting kumara, which I served my kids when they came home from school.
But nothing beats roasted kumara under the pile of fallen leaves in your backyard. You collect leaves, grownups throw in some kumara and set fire, and we patiently wait while enjoying the smell of burning leaves. Once done, grownups take them out with cotton gloves. You break one in two, and crisp brown skin reveals jagged yellow flesh with steam rising. You eat carefully not to burn your mouth, pealing the charred skin and throwing away the burned bits.
When you try roasting kumara at home, choose small, thin and firm ones and cook them whole. Try fan-bake or grill to keep them dry. Serve them to your kids as a snack. I guarantee they love them.