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It's always time for sweet potatoes

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POSTED: October 3, 2011 9:30 p.m.

Last Monday morning, I drove to Dennis Durrence’s farm this side of Reidsville to pick up three five-gallon buckets of sweet potatoes that just had been plowed up.
I did not realize that it was the time of the year already for them to be ready, even though I had run out of last year’s potatoes about two months ago.
The lady directed me to the area where I could fill my buckets. If I did not like to pick them up myself, carefully selecting the ones I wanted, I could have bought some already bagged. But, I really enjoy selecting them myself.
I was glad that my husband had gone to Monday morning men’s Bible study and I could go alone. He just picks up any one he comes to and puts it into the bucket. To get your money’s worth, you have to place them just right!
Several more people already were in the field gathering them. One couple I spoke to told me that they had made a mistake. The previous night, they had told members of Calvary Church in Jesup that they were going to get sweet potatoes. Several members asked them to bring them a bucket.
They were in a small car and had to get 11 buckets! Then they filled one more just in case someone else wanted some.
I would pick up one and see another one that looked better. It did not take me long to fill my three buckets and head back to the produce shelter.
A five-gallon bucket full of potatoes only cost $6! That is the best bargain I can find.
Last year, they also had bundles of fresh turnips, mustard greens and collards, but I guess it is too early for them because they didn’t have any on Monday.
It was only 9:30 and I had plenty of time to get back home and finish dinner and make a pot of candied sweet potatoes. If you want some good ones, just go toward Reidsville from Glennville until you come to the sign on your right that advertises sweet potatoes, then follow the signs.
Sweet potatoes are the oldest vegetable known to mankind.
They were domesticated thousands of years ago in South America.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus took some back to Europe.
In 1593, there was a famine in China and the government ordered expeditions to go and find food.
The next year, the ships came back loaded with sweet potatoes and they became a staple food in China. From there, they spread all over the world.
The sweet potato is hardy, has broad adaptability, and its planting material can be multiplied quickly from very few roots.
I recall Daddy saved all the tiny potatoes and put them in a different bank to use for seed potatoes.
In early spring, he made a long bed, laid the tiny potatoes in it and covered them. The plants, called draws, came up and were pulled. Later, Daddy cut pieces of vines and planted them.
Sweet potatoes are grown in more developing countries than any other root crop.
Sweet potatoes are from the morning-glory family, and the correct spelling used to be “sweetpotato” (one word). But as time went by, the spelling was changed to two words.
A sweet potato is totally different from the Irish potato and is from a different family.
Horticulturists say that the sweet potato is not even a potato.
Yams and sweet potatoes are not the same. Yams are dry and starchy and have a white-colored flesh. They usually are larger than sweet potatoes. They sometimes form funny, having something like toes on the yam.
The sweet potato growing season is 90-150 days, and yams take 150-360 days. Decades ago when orange-fleshed sweet potatoes were introduced to Louisiana shippers, they were required to call them sweet potato yams.
It does not matter to me what they are called. I call them sweet taters, which sounds good to me.
It always has been one of my favorite foods. It seemed that it always was my job to go to the “tater bank” and get enough taters for supper.
After the potatoes had been dug and every one of them picked up by us young’uns, they had to be banked to keep through the winter.
Daddy dug a round place down in the ground and filled it with fresh brown pine straw. He poured the potatoes into a large mound, covered them with more pine straw, then piled dirt over the straw. They resembled Indian teepees. He placed a small piece of tin over the top to keep the rain out.
When Mama wanted potatoes from the new bank, we made a hole in the side. I just reached my hand into the bank and pulled out as many as I needed at the time. Luckily, I never pulled out a snake.
The straw was pulled back over the hole and another piece of tin was used to cover it. This bank was used each time until it was completely emptied, and then another bank was opened. We usually had three banks and the seed bank if the season was good.
There are so many ways sweet potatoes can be cooked. How many times do you go to a church dinner and not find a sweet potato casserole or two on the table? And the casserole dish is usually emptied.
I love them candied, sliced wide or cut like French fries. It doesn’t matter if they’re deep-fried, baked, boiled or made into pies or casseroles. Roast beef gravy is great on a sweet potato!
When I was a child, there always were baked sweet potatoes in the warming closet with the candy cooked through the peeling. These tasted mighty good after coming home from school.
I like to fill the slow cooker with potatoes wrapped individually in tin foil and then let them cook all night while I am sleeping. Then I can freeze what I am not going to use at the time. I can take them out of the tin foil and heat them in the microwave when needed. This saves a lot of energy from turning on the large oven and baking for a long time.
Mama used to have no problem as the oven was heated at the same time on the old wood stove, and she had to bake a large pan of biscuits anyway! I remember the many times I used to take a sweet potato and cover it with hot ashes in the fireplace and cook it. I kept turning it with the iron fire poker and sometimes stuck the poker in it.
That baked potato was an excellent treat. Most of the potato’s nutrients are found just under the skin. They provide half as much protein as regular potatoes but less starch and sugar. The sweet potato and its leaves provide antibacterial and antifungal substances that were used in folk medicines.
In 1860, Georgia grew more sweet potatoes than any other place in the world. They were very valuable during the Revolutionary War and Civil War in Georgia because they grew underground and therefore were less vulnerable to destruction than surface crops.
In 1892, R. Q. Mallard wrote about plantation life before emancipation in Liberty County and told of the food distributed to each slave family.
They mostly ate maize ground from corn, and they also ate sweet potatoes, abounding in starch — the main nutritious ingredient in all food products. The food was easily and quickly cooked in the ashes or baked before a fire.
The weekly allowance for a full worker was a peck of corn and four quarts for each child. A half bushel of sweet potatoes went to each adult and each child in the same proportion.
They also had additional food and much seafood that each slave caught for himself and his family.
One of the worst slave whippings that I have read about was when the slave was caught stealing sweet potatoes from the banks at night from the plantation owner. Most of the plantations planted around 12 acres of potatoes each year to feed the owner and all the slaves.
I just thought of the buckets of potatoes that I put on the back porch next to the kitchen door. I have an old 17-year-old cat, Booger, who thinks she is supposed to eat each time I go in the kitchen.
The other night after I had fed her a portion of canned mackerel, I heard her hissing. My 1-year-old cat, Lucky, does not like Booger. I turned on the light and jerked the door open. I thought I would find the two cats fighting.
Instead, I got a surprise. A big, fat raccoon was eating the mackerel and poor, old Booger had been forced into the corner.
The raccoon was beautiful with his black mask around his face. I stomped my foot, and he took off toward the woods.
I told my husband, Gene, about it, and he asked if I killed the ’coon. Heck, no. He was just hungry and liked canned mackerel. I do not kill the ’coons and opossums that come up to eat — I just run them off. I do not like the armadillos, though!
Anyway, I recall last year that the ’coons and opossums got into my sweet potatoes and gnawed several of them. I guess I had better move them before I have to go back to the tater patch!
Here is my favorite sweet potato pie recipe that I have been using for the past 47 years. You can substitute pumpkin for the sweet potatoes. We used to grow the small pie pumpkins, and I cooked and peeled them for the pumpkin filling. I do not care much for the canned stuff.

 

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