Sweet Potatoes

We’re still in the midst of our sweet potato harvest and so far so good.  I plan to harvest another garden today, then finish tomorrow.

Some folks mistakenly believe that sweet potatoes are just a sweet version of the regular (Irish) potato. But in fact they’re two entirely different plants.  The Irish potato is a nightshade, whereas sweet potatoes are in the morning glory family.  Irish potatoes are planted by burying pieces of the tuber, whereas sweet potatoes are grown from slips (shoots).  They have different pests, different growing seasons, and different tastes.

In her excellent book The History of Food, Maguelonne Toussiant-Samat says that when potatoes and sweet potatoes were introduced into Europe the sweet potato was welcomed with enthusiasm, while the regular potato was not well received.  Thus for a while sweet potatoes were called just “potatoes.”  But later, when the Irish potato came into fashion, “it was regarded only as another potato and the previously more popular sort had to be qualified by the addition of the adjective ‘sweet.'”

Here we plant our Irish potatoes in March.  But sweet potatoes need hot weather to thrive, so they’re not planted until mid-June.  Perhaps because they grow so well in hot dry weather, sweet potatoes are Southern staples but are not as well-known or as well-loved in the rest of the country.

More sweet potatoes are grown in North Carolina than in any other state.  Sweet potatoes aren’t grown on a large commercial scale around here, but we’re only a few miles from the North Carolina border and whatever it is that makes that state so suitable for sweet potatoes is surely also true here.

It wouldn’t seem like October without a sweet potato harvest.