National Sweet Potato Month Newsletter
As the growing season approaches, sweet potato plants are one of our tops sellers. It’s easy to understand why: they’re a highly prized crop, especially in the South, but they’re not so easy to grow from “from scratch,” which, in this case, means sprouting some sweet potatoes and then growing the sprouts into “slips” until they become plants. Once the plant stage is reached, the growing process is straightforward, but articles on growing sweet potatoes deal mainly with what comes before, because that’s the trickiest part.
You Can Cook Sweet Potato Leaves
That’s right, sweet potato leaves are edible greens that are used in certain Asian dishes but perhaps it’s time we started to cook them up here. According to NutritionData, they are “a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and manganese.” This stellar vitamin profile puts them in the same league nutritionally as spinach and collards.
Harvest sweet potato greens the same as you would turnip greens, and prepare them as you would spinach or collards. Before cooking, cut off the tough stems, keeping only those that are tender. Rinse the greens in cold water, and then steam, boil, or sauté. They can also be substituted for spinach in casseroles or other baked dishes. In fact, in addition to Sweet Potato Lasagna it might even be possible to make Sweet Potato Leaf Lasagna. We haven’t tried, but if you do, let us know how it turns out, and send us the recipe if it turns out great.
Sweet Potatoes Contain More Beta-Carotene than Carrots
A medium carrot contains 10,000 IU of beta-carotene, while the average sweet potato contains 16,000 IU! That’s right: sweet potatoes top the list of foods with the most beta carotene. The varieties of sweet potato that contain the highest beta carotene content are those with orange flesh such Georgia Jet, Beauregard, Centennial, and Vardaman.
But hasn’t beta-carotene’s reputation been tarnished a bit lately as a result of new scientific research? Actually, no, it’s beta-carotene supplements that have been called into question. Scientists have found that beta-carotene as it appears naturally in sweet potatoes and carrots is accompanied by many other carotenoids that work together to produce a powerful antioxidant effect. When isolated in the laboratory and manufactured synthetically, it just doesn’t deliver the same results. Much better to eat sweet potatoes, and a lot cheaper too!
Sweet Potato Casserole and Other Great Sweet Potato Recipes
Last Thanksgiving, the New York Times reported that the recipe the greatest number of people searched for the day before was “Sweet Potato Casserole.” As the frontrunner in thirty-six of the fifty states, this search left Pumpkin Pie and other Thanksgiving favorites “in the dust.” Apparently, people love to eat sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving more than is commonly realized.
But why wait for Thanksgiving? The Pilgrims didn’t, in fact, sweet potatoes were the main source of nourishment for early homesteaders as well as for soldiers during the Revolutionary War. George Washington himself used to grow them on his farm in Mt. Vernon, Virginia. Considering that their nutritional profile outshines that of potatoes, it’s less than ideal that Americans these days eat on average less than five pounds of sweet potatoes per year while consuming more than 125 pounds of potatoes annually.
To help return sweet potatoes to being the staple they once were when our foremothers cooked them up over their open fireplaces, here are five great sweet potato recipes that demonstrate just how versatile and delicious this wonderful vegetable can be:
- Sweet Potato Casserole I
- Sweet Potato Pie I
- Louisiana Sweet Potato Pancakes
- Sweet Potato Potato Salad
- Sweet Potato Minestrone
George Washington Carver and the Sweet Potato
Before he died in 1943, George Washington Carver had created more than one hundred products from the sweet potato including seventy-three dyes, fourteen wood fillers, seventeen types of candy, five pastes that were safe enough to use on the back of postage stamps, five breakfast foods, four flours, and three types of molasses! His love for the sweet potato was eclipsed only by his love affair with peanuts, the one that gave us peanut butter among hundreds of other peanut products.
In light of his remarkable achievements, it’s worth thinking a bit about his life philosophy, which he summarized in the following saying:
“It is not the style of clothes one wears, neither the kind of automobile one drives, nor the amount of money one has in the bank, that counts. These mean nothing. It is simply service that measures success.”
The theme of our next newsletter will be tomatoes: a topic that will be of interest to most of you, and one about which there is much to say. Until then, from all of us at Garden Harvest Supply, happy growing and happy eating!