Totally tubular! Musings on the sweet potato
LOCAVORE’S DELIGHT: The Series # 38. Follow us as we explore the bounty of our region’s farms.
Mother Nature has a way of giving us visual clues to what we should be celebrating. Just when the leaves start turning orange, pumpkins begin to festoon everything and those lovely sweet potatoes come into season. As kids, many of us either ate our sweet potatoes from a can or dug in to grandmother’s sweet potato casserole, replete with marshmallows, pecans, and maraschino cherries. We’ve come to realize, however, that as our sweet teeth have faded a bit, we have come to appreciate sweet potatoes even more.
These root veggies are starchy, so when they’re picked from the ground, they need to be cured in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment to convert their starch to sugar. Afterwards, they’re stored and their sweetness accrues with age. Sweet potato growers know that when sweet potatoes are in season, they’re not at their peak and that it won’t be until a month or so later that they’ll really shine. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, they are as good as they will ever be. In the meantime, you can still enjoy sweet potatoes, you just need a little help and a little know-how.
Anybody can turn sweet potatoes into candied yams. But at Lucky’s, our whipped sweet potatoes are more of a side dish than a dessert. At Lucky’s, we also make sweet potato hushpuppies, sweet potato chips, and best of all, sweet potato fried pies. About five years ago, we met a woman who had been making fried sweet potato pies for decades. We asked her how she managed to get the filling into the pie without it oozing all out in the fryer. She said her secret was that she pre-baked the sweet potato pie filling completely in a casserole dish, allowed it to cool, and then rolled the filling into a half-moon-shaped hand pie and fried it. So we do it her way at our restaurant, and actually start the pie in the fryer for about a minute, just to set the crust, before finishing it off in the oven, where it cooks fully. We serve the pies with Homeland Creamery’s butter pecan ice cream, and I can’t think of any other treat that is more emblematic of a sweet southern autumn.
Recipe: Sweet Potato Fried Pies
- 3 cups roasted sweet potatoes
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- 2 tbsp Myers Dark Rum
- ½ tsp Chinese 5 Spice
- Homemade Pie Crust (see recipe below)
- 1 egg (for egg wash)
- 8 tbsp sugar
Combine potatoes, cream, 3 eggs, brown sugar, spices and rum. Blend until combined and pour into a large shallow pan. Bake at 350 degrees until set. Cool. Divide dough into eight 5 ounce portions. Roll out each portion into a flat circle. Place 2 ounces of cooled potato filling in the center of each dough circle. Brush around circle with beaten egg wash. Fold circle in half and crimp edge with a fork (to seal in the filling). Let pies rest in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before cooking. Deep fry each pie at 350 degrees for three minutes or until golden brown. Place fried pies on a sheet of parchment and dust with sugar. Makes enough filling for 8 pies.
Recipe: Lucky 32 Pie Crust:
- 6 1/8 cups all purpose flour
- 2/3 tbsp salt
- 3 1/3 sticks unsalted butter
- 2/3 cup ice cold water
Freeze butter and then grate. Sift flour and salt together. Work cold butter into flour mix and add water slowly, mixing until just combined. Makes enough dough for 8 pies for the recipe above.
Recipe: Molasses Whipped Sweet Potatoes
- 2 pounds sweet potatoes—washed, roasted and peeled
- 1 stick butter
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 2 tsp sorghum molasses
- salt to taste
Lay out sweet potatoes on a sheet pan in a single layer and heat through in a 350 degree oven. When heated through, combine all ingredients in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or mash with a potato masher by hand until well combined and smooth. Makes 4 portions.
Sweet Potatoes 411:
Health Benefits: Sweet potatoes are rich in antioxidants, beta-carotene, magnesium, and vitamins A, B6, and C.
Sweet potatoes vs. Yams: What’s the difference? Sweet potatoes and yams are not even vaguely from the same vegetable family. Sweet potatoes are indigenous to South America, while yams are of African origin. In this country both names are used interchangeably to refer to sweet potatoes; to try a true yam, head to an international market and seek out Boniato!
How to pick and store: Look for tubers with smooth skin, wrinkle and blemish free. They should be small to medium in size, firm to the touch, and uniform in shape. Do not refrigerate! Store in a relatively cool, dry place for up to two weeks.
Varieties: There are over 6,500 different varieties of sweet potatoes in the world. Here are a a couple of my favorites and some that you’re most likely to recognize:
- Covington: One of my favorites, this potato’s inherent sweetness makes it popular here in the south, primarily used in sweet sides and desserts. Its thicker skin makes it easier to roast first and then peel.
- Beauregard: Another favorite, this widely-grown, multipurpose variety is good for roasting, boiling, mashing and frying.
- Jewell: One of the most common varieties, best for baking casseroles.
- Carolina Ruby: A red skin variety with creamy orange flesh and thinner skin; not ideal for roasting because the flesh doesn’t detach from the skin very easily.
- O’henry: A relative of the Beauregard, this variety has cream colored skin and flesh, and is great for baking.
- Okinawan Purple: Originally native to Japan (hence the name), these potatoes were eventually made popular in Hawaiian cuisine, by French Polynesians. Their skin is creamy brown, but inside the flesh is a vibrant purple.
- Stokes Purple: Indigenous to Stokes County, North Carolina, these vivid lavender-hued potatoes possess a unique earthy taste and are best used in savory dishes. They are starchy, with a fibrous skin (which has a purple tinge), and the flesh has a low moisture content, so they’re best baked lower and longer.
Did you know? You can drink ‘em:
- Covington sweet potato vodka made in Snow Hill, NC.
- Carver sweet potato beer, made at Fullsteam Brewery, in Durham
Come visit our vegetable cart for some delicious baby Evangeline sweet potatoes from our friends at Farlow Farms.