Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sweet Success

This was our first year growing sweet potatoes and it was far easier than you might think. We bought seedlings through the mail from an outfit in Tennessee and transplanted them in a small plot in our kitchen garden here in the District of Columbia, about a mile from the White House.

Within a few weeks, the sweet potato plants were sending out long vines with lots of leaves. We discovered the leaves are edible, which proved to be a great addition to our curried-okra stew. The vines started to take over part of the yard (less grass to mow) and began climbing the tomato cages (the tomatoes didn't seem to mind.)

In other words, we did next to nothing to keep these sweet potatoes going beyond a very occasional watering. Finally, it came time to harvest the sweet potatoes. A bulletin from Purdue University indicated that the plants would continue to thrive until the first freeze. But I was pretty sure the tubers must be ready to come out of the ground.

First, I pulled away all the vines. Too much for us to consume, most of them went into the compost pile. Then I began digging for potatoes with my forked spade. There must be a better way to harvest sweet potatoes, because I injured quite a few with the tines of my spade. Slowly I probed around the bed, heaving the soil and revealing our new bounty.

When I was done, we had a small pile of sweet potatoes, maybe 30 pounds worth. The bulletin from Purdue advises "curing" the potatoes for storage by keeping them in a humid environment around 80 degrees for one or two weeks. Since I don't have a humid, 80-degree environment, I spread the sweet potatoes in a bread rack and they now reside temporarily in our foyer.

What to do with 30 pounds of sweet potatoes? That seems to be the question of the hour, something we will be pondering while the potatoes "cure." I have a favorite recipe for a sweet potato salad with pecans and a maple-orange dressing. Beyond that, we don't consume a lot of sweet potatoes--yet.

Perhaps we should start thinking of options for storing them. Perhaps our readers have some suggestions?


Northside Food said...

I love sweet potatoes. They roast well, make fries, and pies and casseroles. I've also made waffles and pancakes with them.

Taylor said...

I adore sweet potatoes. They have this beautiful, rich flavor that lends itself to versatility.

I love oven-baked sweet-potato fries: Peel and slice into wedges (I usually go into eighths, depending on the size). Toss in bowl with olive oil, then salt and pepper them to taste (chili powder is also delicious if you like spicy). Bake them in a 350 oven until nicely browned, tossing occasionally.

They also make excellent chips, but the slicing and the frying is too much of a hassle for me.

Joanna said...

I've been getting loads of sweet potatoes in my veg box ... mostly I roast them in wedges, with potato wedges and thick onion slices, all tossed in olive oil. I generally put in about equal quantities of each veg. And sometimes I add a little cubed squash. Keep roasting until they just start to caramelise. Even the people who live here who say they'd rather eat potatoes like sweet potatoes this way.


Anonymous said...

I never get tired of sweet potato fries--seasoned with rosemary, sage, garlic, chili pepper, whatever! I also recommend a slow cooker stew with onions, sweet potatoes, pork tenderloin and cider (hard or regular). Season it with lots of thyme or sage, and salt and pepper. It's easy and a soothing, hearty cold-weather meal.

Winder Woman said...

We like sweet potatoes any 'ole way, but the best way is in Sweet Potato Souffle, a sinfully rich holiday side dish tradition in our family. Now, while it's not good to eat a whole lot of the stuff, Sweet Potato Souffle is made with real food, and that's got to be good for you, right?! I'll post a copy of the recipe on my blog.

De in D.C. said...

This recipe is similar to my favorite sweet potato casserole, though I use 1/4 cup maple syrup instead of the honey and have never tried orange juice in the topping. I was actually thinking of making a dish tonight with all the sweet potatoes we have from our CSA box.

Another favorite recipe which I did last week is a thick soup, flavored with lots of thyme and tarragon. Yum.

Anonymous said...

I make a grilled potato and haloumi salad. Also roast sweet potatoes. You can put them in risotto, have them mashed... Mmmmm... So many options...

Anonymous said...

If you have the freezer space, you can roast a lot of the sweet potatoes at one time. Prick the potatoes, and roast on pans covered with foil, as fresh sweet potatoes have a lot more moisture than cured ones. (You will probably need to run the range fan to deal with all the extra moisture). Then cool slightly, scoop the soft filling out of the skin, and whip in a mixer, with a whisk blade, until smooth. Pack in freezer containers to store. Then use as is (for a side dish), or cover sweet apple slices with some for a yummy casserole (sprinkle apples with a bit of sugar, if you can only get the tart baking kind of apple), or use in soups and stocks. This method is relatively fast, and makes use later in the year a piece of cake (or sweet potato pie perhaps?) Bon appetit.

Theron said...


I followed your yogurt instructions for keeping my sweets in an 80 degree humid environment for a week. I put them in a cooler and a jar of really hot water and then reheated the water every 12 to 24 hours for about a week. Then I placed them in the basement on a sheet of newspaper to dry and this seemed to work.

Good luck.

The Baklava Queen said...

I believe you can store sweet potatoes pretty much the same as regular potatoes. As for other recipes -- well, I do heartily agree with "fries" and roasted and "souffle" -- but I love using them (thin slices) with dark leafy greens in a stir-fry, making a bisque from them, or even baking them and using the pulp in muffins or quick breads (like pumpkin).

Angela said...

I love them baked and dabbed with cinnamon honey butter!

For a different take, though, try baking and mashing them with sauteed fresh ginger and garlic, salt, pepper, and a little butter. A more savory/sweet take, and delicious. My family likes A LOT of ginger and garlic!

Ed Bruske said...

Who knew a little question mark could elicit so many great comments and suggestions.

Jennifer, great idea about the waffles. (Like the look of that lamb turning on your spit as well.)

Taylor, I think you've inspired me to make some sweet potato fries.

Joanna, up to now I've been roasting sweet potatoes all on their own--especially to make the aforementioned salad. But I like the idea of mixing them with other vegetables. We've got a ton of parsnips we haven't harvested yet.

IU, rosemary with the sweet potato fries sounds awfully intriguing.

WW, great idea, the sweet potato souffle. I think I would go the extra mile and actually make the beaten egg white souffle part, but then you'd probably use less sweet potato.

De, yes, sweet potato casserole. And I think OJ sounds great.

TB, haloumi salad is new for me. But I'm game. Don't do risotto much--we're more partial to brown rice. But I'm sure there was a sweet potato risotto on the menu when we were catering.

Anon, your suggestion for freezing sweet potato seems right on. We just need the freezer, meaning, a chest freezer. Our little bitty thing is always too full.

Theron, genius idea, using a heated cooler to cure the sweet potatoes. We need a bigger cooler.

Jennifer, I am liking the image of a sweet potato bisque. We recently made pumpkin muffins. Sweet potatoes would easily substitute. I also like very much my sweet potato gratin, which would use some of the greens we have stashed in the freezer.

Angela, I think you are on the right track with the ginger and garlic. Sweet potatoes mingle with so many different flavors. My aunt reminds me that my grandmother used to make a mean candied sweet potato casserole.

future reference said...

gnocchi, curried coconut soup, roasted for breakfast, use in place of or in addition to white(er) potatoes in shepherds pie, hash with other veggies and cheese chopped in, Japanese- style curry rice bowl, latkes, grated into a tea bread like zucchini bread or carrot cake...

That seems like enough for now. Those are my main uses for sp.

Anonymous said...

Sweet potato pie! It beats pumpkin, hands down!