If you haven't tasted sweet potato pie, you probably have never visited the South. With the bright, rich orange interior color, soft, delicate texture and sweet flavor, sweet potatoes are popular as a side dish or dessert ingredientand sweet potato pie is a dessert no one can resist. Sweet potato melds well with the flavors of cinnamon, honey, coconut, pecans, ginger, butter, and nutmeg, which is why it's a great ingredient in many breads, puddings, custards, and baked dessertsand sweet potato is equally delicious blended with fruits like apples and berries in casseroles. More savory spices such as green herbs and chili peppers also complement the sweet vegetable in casseroles and stews.
Yams and sweet potatoes are sometimes used interchangeably, but yams have a coarse, rough skin, and sweet potatoes have a smooth, thin skin. They're actually the products of unrelated families of plants. The cooked sweet potato flesh is moister than a yam's. If you're trying to increase your beta carotene intake, sweet potatoes are way ahead of yams. Choose potatoes with the deepest orange color for the most beta carotene content. Sweet potatoes are also a good source of Vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron, and although they're carbohydrate and calorie dense, they're low in fat and high in fiber.
Sweet potatoes were first discovered in South America but now they're grown in the U.S., while yams are all imported from the Caribbean. If you buy sweet potatoes in the supermarket, choose plump, firm roots. Store them in a dry, cool place, but never refrigerate uncooked sweet potatoes. Cook them by boiling, baking, frying, char-grilling or broiling. Dishes prepared with sweet potatoes will generally freeze well. Cooked sweet potatoes can also be stored in the refrigerator for a week or more. Sweet potatoes can be canned and stored for months. Although not the healthiest option, sweet potato chips or fries are a very interesting variation from the traditional white potato chips and fries.
Growing sweet potatoes couldn't be easier, as long as they have a 80-120-day growing season, and plenty of space to spread out. They thrive in most soils, including sandy to heavy clay. Sweet potato plants â€˜slips' should be planted a full 2 weeks past the last frost. Till the soil to a depth of 8 to 10 inches, then add compost to keep the soil loose, making it easier to dig out your treasures in the fall. Make sure plants have 12 inches of space between them. Keep soil moist with at least 1 inch of water per week.
When it's time to unearth your produce, most of the potatoes will be in a tight cluster just below the main stem. However, some may spread out below the soil, so start digging 18 inches out from the stem and work your way in, being careful not to damage the stray roots. Once the potatoes have been allowed to thoroughly dry in the sun for a few hours, move them to a protected area for a week or 10 days. This allows the skin to toughen, to protect the potatoes for a long storage life. It's best to wait 6-8 weeks after harvest before sweet potatoes reach peak sweetness when baked. The ideal temperatures for storage are 50 to 60 degrees, with 60 to 70 percent humidity. Proper curing and storage should help the potatoes last for several months.