Sweet Potatoes ‘R’ Us
Just how important is the sweet potato in the NC swing of things? Well, not only does it have a 501(c)3 charitable foundation and a newsletter, it has its own blog. I’m hard pressed to think of another vegetable that can make such a claim. The sweet potato is the official state vegetable of North Carolina, thanks to a group of enterprising youth from Wilson County who pushed through this important piece of legislation in 1995, and not a minute too soon. Since 1971, North Carolina has been the #1 sweet potato producing state in the U.S., putting forth half of the sweet potatoes the country needs to keep going strong. We’ve got the right dirt, the right humidity, the right everything to be the sweet potato kings and queens of America. And so we are.
Okay, before proceeding, let’s get this out of the way: A sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) is not a yam (Dioscorea Species). Yams are primarily grown in Africa, South America and the Caribbean. They’re actually fairly rare in the States. Yams can grow to be almost seven feet long—seven feet long!—and they’re toxic if eaten raw. You have to pound on them for several minutes before cooking to get the poison out.
All things considered, you’re better off sticking with sweet potatoes. Which, by the way, are not potatoes, but roots. Please take note.
Read over any list of super foods, and the sweet potato is sure to be on it. It’s a great source of potassium, magnesium and phosphorous. It has a low glycemic index, making it a stellar choice for diabetics, and is high in antioxidants, beta- carotene, complex carbohydrate, vitamins A, C and B6. Which is perhaps why its popularity is once again exploding.
Back in the day, the average sweet potato consumption per capita was twenty pounds a year, but that figure dwindled to just four pounds a year in more recent decades, primarily due to the fact that folks can only eat so much sweet potato casserole over the holidays. But as the sweet potato has been more widely recognized as the nutritional wunderkind that it is, innovative cooks are finding new and astonishing ways of preparing it. Miso-Maple Sweet Potato Tacos! Sweet Potato Quinoa Patties! Curried Sweet Potato Fruit Salad!
The more you learn about sweet potatoes, the more you want to celebrate them. Fortunately, Snow Hill holds an annual festival every November, where you enter the “Dress Your Tater” contest, and, with any luck, meet Spencer the Sweet Potato, the NC Sweet Potato Commission’s mascot.
Speaking of the NC Sweet Potato Commission, much of the information here was cribbed from their site, which is chock full of all kinds of sweet potato info you simply can’t live without, not to mention dozens of great sweet potato recipes. Since February is National Sweet Potato Month, I suggest you get cooking.
Sweet Potato Pancakes
(recipe adapted from The Churchmouse Cookbook,
published by All Saints’ Episcopal Churchwomen,
Concord, NC, 1985.)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ¾ teaspoon baking powder
1 cooked sweet potato, mashed
1 ¼ cups milk
4 tablespoons melted butter
Mix flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients, and then incorporate into flour. Using as few strokes as possible, stir until batter is moist (don’t over-mix). Cook pancakes on a hot griddle, turning once.
Serve plain or with butter and maple syrup.