Monday, October 10, 2011

...and Sweet 'Tater Pie

It really doesn’t matter how many cans of Bruce’s Yams are sold this holiday season…

I am here to tell you that those orange things that you find on buffet tables from Thanksgiving to New years are NOT, I repeat NOT…yams.

They are in fact …Sweet Potatoes! Sweet Potatoes, or Ipomoea batatas, are the basis for those holiday casseroles, soufflés and pies that so many of us enjoy.

Since both the sweet potato (ipomoea batata) and the yam (dioscorea) originated in the same area of the world, an error in translation is said to be blamed for the confusion. I am not going to get into a discussion of etymology, so suffice it to say….we’re just talking about sweet potatoes.

In the spring, we get “slips” (little plants)from a plant company in Tennessee. The slips are essential sprouts off the tuber that are allowed to form some roots.This company specializes in all sorts of sweet potatoes. There are red, white and yellow varieties. We particularly like the Georgia Jets. They have a fairly short growing season, produce well, and make some real big tubers. Their deep orange flesh is sweet and creamy.

Since the sweet potato is a tropical plant, heat is a necessity. We cannot plant them until the ground is warm, and all threat of frost is past. After their arrival by mail, the “slips” spend some quality time in the green house. While the “slips” are growing in the greenhouse, we prep the growing area. The Boss puts black plastic over the ground prior to planting. This serves several purposes; it keeps the weeds down, and provides some added warmth for the growing tubers. It also holds in moisture from the irrigation supply.

This year we planted more “slips” than in the past. The hope was to have a bigger crop. Unfortunately, the critter population was enjoying the sweet potatoes long before they were ready to harvest. We’re fairly certain those 10 groundhogs, 6 raccoons and two possums that the Boss “eliminated” out back were enjoying the plants! The tops were eaten off the plants in half of both rows repeatedly. There were probably some rabbits enjoying sweet potato greens, too. This caused our crop to be far less than we had anticipated. However, it was MUCH better than last year’s complete failure, so we’re happy.

When the weather begins to turn cool, the sweet potatoes must be harvested.
They should not be allowed to suffer a frost. The vines must be pulled off, the plastic and irrigation removed, and the potatoes dug from the earth. The sweet potato is a relative of the morning glory, so there are lots of long, trailing vines, although the tubers remain under the main part of the plant. Generally, one pass with the plow uncovers most of the tubers.

After the tubers are dug, they are dusted off and taken to “cure”. Our “curing area” is actually a big piece of cardboard on the floor of the shop with a sheet over the top. The tubers are given about two weeks to cure in which time the starches convert to sugar and the delicious taste develops.

Last week was the first week we were able to offer sweet potatoes for sale at the Market. Somehow, they just seem to symbolize Autumn to many folks. The tasty tubers will show up in a variety of ways, baked, roasted, boiled, glazed, “souped”, stewed, fried, casseroled,

…and as Sweet ‘Tater Pie!

Here's a recipe:

• 1 (1 pound) sweet potato
• 1/2 cup butter, softened
• 1 cup white sugar
• 1/2 cup milk
• 2 eggs
• 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 (9 inch) unbaked pie crust
1. Boil sweet potato whole in skin for 40 to 50 minutes, or until done. Run cold water over the sweet potato, and remove the skin.
2. Break apart sweet potato in a bowl. Add butter, and mix well with mixer. Stir in sugar, milk, eggs, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until mixture is smooth. Pour filling into an unbaked pie crust.
3. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 55 to 60 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Pie will puff up like a souffle, and then will sink down as it cools.

Rather like pumpkin pie, but lighter and fluffier. YUM!

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