Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are a member of the morning glory family and are not even related to the yam (Discorea) or even the white potato (solanum). This warm weather needing crop is only commercially viable in the south, but may be successfully grown in northern areas where there are at least 120 days of temperatures above 70ź. The reason for my concern this morning is that at a soil temperature of 60ź the plants will usually stop growing and when the nights dip below 50ź they will become stunted and usually die.
Because sweet potatoes will grow into a tangled mass so thick they block light from reaching the ground, care must be taken when harvesting. Sweet potatoes grow best in loose, sandy soil, so digging is not a problem, however when digging use care not to nick a sweet potato, as there is no garden crop that rots faster than sweet potatoes that have been bruised or punctured. All damaged potatoes must be used at once or prepared for freezing or canning.
Do not allow harvested roots to sit in the sun for more than an hour, and all should be allowed to cure for 8-10 days at 75-80ź in a well ventilated room to remove excess moisture. Uncured roots may be preserved by burying them without touching each other, in moist sand. When you have too many to use at one time. You may freeze them by baking or microwaving until done. Then peeling and mashing or pure’ing and freezing. I use the plastic quart strawberry containers with a gallon size storage bag inserted. This will allow you to freeze up to 2-3 pounds per container, and it will freeze flat. Then you can remove the plastic container to save freeze space.
Since this is the time of year to harvest sweet potatoes, they naturally come to mind when thinking about planning meals for the holidays.
Sweet potato pie: The pastry - mix together 1 cup all purpose flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Mix into this with your fingers or a pastry blender 1/4 pound cold butter or oleo. If you wish to have a sweet pastry, add 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar at this time. Mix all well until it resembles a coarse meal. Separately, mix together one jumbo egg yolk and 2 tablespoons ice water. Then add to the flour mixture. Mix all together until the pastry is smooth and forms a ball. You can roll it out on a floured surface. But I prefer to take small pieces and to pat them thinly into a pie pan using the heel of the hand to make it even around the bottom and sides. Place the formed crust into a grocery bag and place in the frige while making the filling.
The filling - In a bowl combine: 2 cups (1 pound) mashed cooked sweet potatoes, 2 well beaten eggs, 1 1/4 cups milk, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup light brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons rum flavoring, 4 tablespoons melted butter or oleo. Mix well. Remove pie crust from frige or use a pre-made, frozen, deep dish 9 inch pie crust. Pour mixture into pie crust and bake at 350ź for about 40 minutes, or until a knife comes our clean when inserted and pie is firm.
Sweet Potato Cake: Into a large bowl sift together: 3 cups whole wheat pastry flour, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon ground all spice. Set bowl aside.
Combine in a mixer bowl 2/3 cup canola oil and 3/4 cup honey, blend well. Now add one cup dry ingredients and 1 large egg. Mix well. Combine until all dry ingredients and a total of 4 eggs are added and well mixed. Now add 2 cups pureed sweet potatoes and finish mixing. When machine mixing is complete, add 1/2 cup zante currants (by Sun Maid) and 1/1/2 cups chopped hickory or hazelnuts and mix in by hand. Pecans or walnuts will also suffice. Preheat oven to 350ź. Pour mixture into two 9x5 inch cake pans and bake about 50 minutes until cake rebounds from a gentle touch. Let cool and then remove from cake pans.
Pat Biggerstaff is the gardening columnist for the Daily News. She lives in Middlesboro. To comment or suggest topics for future columns, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.