-

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

February is National Sweet Potato Month!

No, Spring hasn't sprung, yet. But, this delightful flower does have something in common with today's celebration. It is a member of the Morning-Glory Family. And, you know how I adore morning glories! Today, for National Sweet Potato Month, we are going to celebrate the fruit of the flower, the Ipomcea Batatas, the Sweet Potato.

The Sweet Potato is a perennial, with large, tuberous roots, and creeping stems; the leaves are variable in shape, being heart-shaped, with the lobes projecting, and it is not rare to find the leaves deeply lobed. The flower of the Sweet Potato is, in shape, like that of the common "Morning Glory," though not quite so spreading; it is of a purplish color in the throat, and white on the margin. The plant rarely produces flowers in the Northern States, but in the far South, where the season is longer, flowers and ripened seeds are not rare. The plant, as it runs along the ground, strikes root at every joint, or node; this peculiarity, while advantageous in the far South, where the season is long enough for such roots to grow to a useful size, are a disadvantage to the Northern cultivator, who lives where the season is barely long enough for the principal roots to mature. John Fitz Sweet Potato Culture

North Carolina is the largest producer of "Sweet Potatoes-The Vegetable with Super Food Powers" in the United States. Mississippi is next. Almost 90% of the Mississippi Sweet Potato crop is grown within a 40-mile radius of Vardaman, the proclaimed Sweet Potato Capital of the World. As a matter of fact, when I was checking to make sure that February was indeed Sweet Potato Month, the folks at the Mississippi Sweet Potato Council were kind enough to give me an immediate reply.

Louise,
I can confirm that February is indeed National Sweet Potato Month. Mississippi Sweet Potato Growers have a good supply of great tasting sweet potatoes this year. Availability should remain good until the new crop is harvested in September.  Movement has been strong. Processing potatoes are in great demand to fill the growing demand for sweet potato french fries. These are exciting times for sweet potatoes.
regards,
Benny Graves
Mississippi Sweet Potato Council

Louisiana, California, Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, New Jersey, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia are all sweet potato producing states. And, according to Jocelyn @ the Sweet Bytes Blog, where you will delight in bushels of sweet potato recipes, Epicurious.com named 2011 as The Year of the Sweet Potato! Whew! That's a lotta tater goodness.

Although I knew sweet potatoes were not related in any way to what I call the plain ol' potato, I didn't know, there were two distinct types of sweet potatoes. Gee, I wonder if that explains the whole yam sweet potato debate?

There are two types of sweet potatoes, often described as "dry-fleshed" or "moist-fleshed." This refers to the mouth feel, not the actual moisture present in the root. Actually, soft versus firm fleshed types would be a more accurate description. "Moist-fleshed" types tend to convert more of their starch to sugars and dextrine during cooking, becoming softer and sweeter than the "dry-fleshed" types. The "moist-fleshed" types are often called "yams." However, the true yam, native to Africa, is an entirely different plant species.

It seems, the confusion between the term sweet potatoes and yams originated in Louisiana in the 1930s. In order to distinguish the orange fleshed moist type sweet potato from, the white-fleshed sweet potatoes grown in other parts of the country, Louisiana farmers adopted the term yam for sweet potatoes grown in their state. So you see, they are really both sweet potatoes and either term has come to be quite acceptable.

It's really a toss up when it comes to choosing the sweet potato's best virtue, Humility, Sustenance, or Delight.

Humility

Humble? Only on the outside. Packed within that unruly shaped tuber, is a powerhouse full of pride. Oh, you might not see it. Chances are, you have totally missed one of the most nutritious pleasures the sweet potato has to offer, the leaves. Yes, young, delicate sweet potato leaves are edible. Once thought not to have any economical value, researchers studied the concentration of lutein in sweet potato leaves and were pleasantly surprised to discover that sweet potato leaves rank second in lutien content after marigold flowers and "number one among edible vegetables!" So, not only are those greens a good source of A, C, Riboflavin and now Lutien, they taste good too. Seriously, you must check out this recipe at My Asian Kitchen to get my drift:)

Sustenance

Perhaps when it comes to versatility, the sweet potato along with pork can share the same plate. Fact is, anything you can do with a "good ol potato," you can do with a sweet potato, and then some. However, when it comes to sweet potatoes, you may just get more for your money, nutritionally anyway. Fact is, The Center for Public Interest ranks the sweet potato as one of the most nutritious vegetables you can eat. The American Diabetes Association list it as one of its top Super Foods. Sweet potatoes deserve our respect. There's a reason why strained sweet potatoes are one of the first foods babies are introduced to, they're easy to digest. Sweet potato juice concentrates are so rich in sugar they blend beautifully in an eye refreshing and healthy morning smoothie. (gotta get that carotene you know:)

It is a well documented fact that sweet potatoes nourished soldiers during the Revolutionary War. Perhaps you've heard of the "the sweet potato dinner picture." It's a work of art by South Carolina artist John Blake White, which hangs prominently in a third-floor corridor of the Senate wing of the Capitol. Some refer to it as General Marion's Sweet Potato Dinner. Legend has it that when the cunning and resourceful "Swamp Fox" (that was his nickname) established camp on Snow Island, South Carolina, he invited a British officer to dine with him. The dinner consisted of sweet potatoes cooked over a campfire. The British officer had never tasted sweet potatoes and was impressed with the modest meal.

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia
The British visitor was a young man who had never seen Marion...His astonishment, when they did meet, was, in all probability, not of a kind to lessen the partisan in his estimation. That a frame so slight, and seemingly so feeble, coupled with so much gentleness, and so little pretension, should provoke a respect so general, and fears, on one side, so impressive, was well calculated to compel inquiry as to the true sources of this influence.  Such an inquiry was in no way detrimental to a reputation founded, like Marion's, on the successful exercise of peculiar mental endowments.  The young officer, as soon as his business was dispatched, prepared to depart, but Marion gently detained him for dinner, which was in preparation. "The mild and dignified simplicity of Marion's manners had already produced their effects, and, to prolong so interesting an interview, the invitation was accepted. The entertainment was served up on pieces of bark, and consisted entirely of roasted potatoes, of which the general ate heartily, requesting his guest to profit by his example, repeating the old adage, that "hunger is the best sauce." "But surely, general," said the officer, "this cannot be your ordinary fare." "Indeed, sir, it is," he replied, "and we are fortunate on this occasion, entertaining company, to have more than our usual allowance." The story goes, that the young Briton was so greatly impressed with the occurrence, that, on his return to Georgetown, he retired from the service, declaring his conviction that men who could with such content endure the privations of such a life, were not to be subdued. (source)
Stuffed Sweet Potato Croquettes
"There are but few if any of our staple farm crops receiving more attention than the sweet potato, and indeed rightfully so -- the splendid service it rendered during the great World War in the saving of wheat flour, will not soon be forgotten. The 118 different and attractive products (to date) made from it, are sufficient to convince the most skeptical that we are just beginning to discover the real value and marvelous possibilities of this splendid vegetable. (source)

Delight!

Sheer delight! What else can be said about a vegetable so versatile that you can enjoy it for breakfast, lunch and dinner and never experience the same taste twice? And Snack Time too!!! If you're lucky, you have a smidgen of leftovers in the fridge. Or better yet, you have some sweet potatoes stashed in the freezer. (yes they freeze well too!) Wha La! Sweet Potato Fries and your favorite sweet potato dip.

"Wash cured sweet potatoes and bake or boil until slightly soft. If boiled, drain immediately. Thoroughly cool the baked or boiled sweet potatoes. Wrap individually (skins left on) in freezer film or foil and place in plastic freezer bags. Seal, label and freeze. Most sweet potato dishes freeze well. Save time and energy by making a sweet potato dish to serve and one to store in the freezer."

Sweet Potatoes play nice with other ingredients. All kinds of seasonings jump at the chance to get into the game. Sliced, Diced and Baked, sizzle with pleasure at the thought they might be the "chosen one." And, Let's not leave out Microwave.

"Sweet potatoes can be cooked in a microwave oven to save time. Wash and pierce potatoes, then place them on a paper towel. The cooking time for 2 medium potatoes is on high for 5–9 minutes, and 4 potatoes, 10–13 minutes. Yellow and dark orange sweet potatoes can be used interchangeably in recipes. Try not to mix the two types in a single dish, because their different textures and cooking times may affect the outcome of the recipe. The yellow variety takes longer to cook than the orange and will be done at the upper range of cooking times."

Oh what fun it would be to serve up sweet potatoes, not only on the holidays, but at least once a month the entire year. (Sure once a week would be entertaining too:)

Sweet potatoes can also be eaten boiled, fried or roasted. When sliced, dried in the sun and ground, it makes a flour that remains in good condition for a long time. In Indonesia sweet potatoes are soaked in salt water for about an hour to inhibit microbial growth before drying. The flour is used as a dough conditioner in bread manufacturing and as a stabilizer in the ice-cream industry.

In Japan about 90 percent of the starch produced from sweet potato is used in the manufacture of starch syrup, glucose and isomerized glucose syrup, lactic acid beverages, distilled spirits, bread and other food manufacturing industries.

Now I've done it. I made myself so hungry for sweet potatoes while writing this post, look what I made for dinner. I call them Fruit Studded Sweet Potato Pancakes.

For dessert I think I'll "partake" in some of Grace's Sweet Potato Pie!

By chance if you have no fresh sweet potatoes in the house, you might give this Sweet Potato Praline Cheesecake a whirl. It uses Dunbar canned sweet potatoes and was harvested from a Dunbar Sweet Potato recipe booklet.

revised February, 2013

Resources
1. Sweet Potato Day is celebrated Feb. 22nd.
2. From Partisan Commander to Legend: Francis Marion
3. Sweet Potato Council of California
4. What's is the Difference Between a Sweet Potato and a Yam?
5. Identification of Sweet Potato Leaves as an excellent source of lutein (Khachatryan)
6. The Healing Power of Sweet Potatoes
7. Ornamental Sweet Potato Vine Propagation
8. National Cook a Sweet Potato Day

Recipes
1. Sweet Potato & Apricot Rolls
2. Sweet Potato Falafel
3. Stir-fried Sweet Potato Leaves with Garlic
4. Sweet Potato-Feta Rounds
5. Sweet Potato Ravioli In Cheese Broth
6. Sweet Potato Biscuits
7. Buckwheat Sweet Potato Quick Bread (gluten free)
8. Sweet Potato Hash
9. Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip Bread
10. Sweet Potato Pudding Cake
11. Sweet Potato & Cream Cheese Pie
12. Dulce de Batata--Sweet Potato Paste
13. Sweet Potato, Corn and Jalapeño Bisque
14. Scalloped Sweet Potatoes in Lemon-Ginger Cream Sauce