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.

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10 comments on “Sweet Potatoes

  1. shoreacres says:

    A couple of interesting notes. One is this link, that talks about the value of sweet potato vines as fodder for animals and food for humans.

    I didn’t realize until I had a couple of friends with diabetes that, despite their name, “sweet” potatoes are far better for diabetics than white potatoes. Apparently their high fiber content helps to slow down the absorption of sugars.

    I had pork chops baked with onion, apple and sweet potato last night, and believe me — I’m looking forward to the leftovers!

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    • Bill says:

      Sweet potatoes are more nutritious than the other kind. I didn’t realize that they are specifically beneficial to people with diabetes. Interesting.

      I know that the vines are edible but we’ve never tried them. I’ve seen them listed as part of other farms’ CSA shares. I’m sure we’ll get around to trying them someday.

      Your pork chops sound yummy. 🙂

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  2. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, all this talk about sweet potatoes is going to convince me to buy some. Some steak houses here have baked sweet potatoes on the menu with their signature steaks but I seriously doubt that smothering them with all the brown sugar and butter makes the potato a healthy thing to eat. I will say that I like a sweet potato pie. It’s very similar to a pumpkin pie. I remember while growing up, Mom would put a piece of sweet potato in a jar of water. Soon a vine would come up out of the jar and just keep growing and growing and growing. Before long it would have grown all around a window. I’m not sure if she put any thing in the jar of water other than just the water but it was an amazing thing to me that a vine like that would grow out of a jar of water. I’m not sure if it was a special sweet potato vine just for that kind of application or if it was just a regular store bought sweet potato.

    I have never determined the difference between a yam and a sweet potato. They look the same to me but I suspect there is some subtle difference.

    Have a great sweet potato digging day.

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    • Bill says:

      If you put a piece of an organic sweet potato in a jar it will sprout vines like that. Conventional sweet potatoes will not. That’s because the industry sprays them with a chemical that prevents sprouting (they do this with Irish potatoes as well). Here’s a cute video (school kid’s project) demonstrating that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exBEFCiWyW0

      Yams and sweet potatoes are different vegetables. Yams are originally from Africa and because of their resemblance to sweet potatoes lots of Southern people (particularly) use the words interchangably.

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  3. Linda says:

    Wonderful post! I love sweet potatoes and have them often. You have a very nice blog.

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  4. rhondajean says:

    Sweet potato and quinoa salad is one of my favourite meals.

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  5. Thanks for the lesson. I’ve never met a potato I didn’t like but I have a slight prejudice for sweet potatoes, and sweet potato fries are to die for. 🙂 –Curt

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