The history of sweet potatoes is so interesting and diverse, I could write a whole book about them. Oh, wait! I did write a whole book about sweet potatoes … a cook book. In fact, I created an entire local food project called “Good Food Local” based upon a doctoral dissertation about sweet potatoes and the fact that they would be a very good crop to grow in Southern Illinois, if only people knew how to cook them. Long story – short: Good Food Local resulted in lots of grant money allowing the promotion of locally grown produce and teaching over a thousand students how to prepare that produce.
Sweet potatoes began their journey around the world in Central and South America. It found its way to Polynesia and archaeologic records date the sweet potato in the Cook Islands as early as 1210 CE. Vines visited Easter Island, Hawaii and New Zealand … all during times before Europeans visited the Americas.
In the 1500s, the sweet potato was introduced to the Philippines and China; in the early 1600s, to Japan; and by 1764, they were growing in Korea.
Historians believe that sweet potatoes reached Europe during the Columbian exchange, a time right after Columbus’ first voyage when explorers took foods back and forth. The 1604 Receipt Book written by Elinor Fettiplace lists sweet potatoes.
Sweet potatoes have been a part of the cuisine of the United States since forever! African slaves knew exactly what to do with them and their recipes and culture continue to rank at the top of the list of what we foodies call Soul Food. Sweet Potato Pie has been popular since the middle 1800s. It is easy to assume that the marshmallow topped sweet potato casserole dates to my favorite vintage period of the 1950s, but it actually became popular in 1920 … when marshmallows were first manufactured and marketed.
Lots of 1950s and 60s families enjoyed sweet potatoes in the same ways they enjoyed white potatoes. They boiled and mashed them; they roasted them alongside meats; they sliced and fried them. If you surveyed a thousand people and asked them in the marshmallow topped sweet casserole was on their 1960 Thanksgiving table, 999 would say that it was!
In my childhood home, sweet potatoes came to the table in one way. Mother boiled sweet potatoes then removed their jackets and cut them into chunks. Those chunks were fried in butter and at the last minute they were sprinkled with brown sugar so they got a crisp caramelized edge! That remains this family’s favorite! Homemade sweet potato pie would rank #2!
However, I love sweet potatoes prepared in a variety of savory ways and those are the recipes I will share today. The easiest is to simply bake the potato, split it open and serve it with butter, salt and pepper!
This pasta sauce is too easy to make! Bake a medium to large sweet potato in the microwave. Saute 1/4 cup chopped sweet onion in 1/2 stick of butter. When the onion is soft, add a little minced garlic and a good sprinkle of red pepper flakes. Remove the flesh from the sweet potato and add it to the skillet, mashing everything together. Add 3-4 cups of half and half and 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese. Let this combination come to a simmer. It will begin to thicken. You can remove it from the heat and use an immersion blender to puree the sauce. (I actually like texture, so I just use a whisk.) If the sauce is too thick, add some of your pasta cooking water until you get the consistency you like.
This makes plenty of sauce for a pound of cooked pasta.
Smoked pork neck bones or ham hocks
1 small sweet onion
1 rib celery
3 sweet potatoes
1 Tablespoon dried sweet red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon red chili pepper paste
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
¼ teaspoon powdered sage
4 – 6 cups torn turnip greens
In a large soup pot, prepare the stock by boiling 2 smoked ham hocks or several smoked pork neck bones in 3 quarts of water. Gently boil the stock until it reduces by about one third. Peel and chop the onion, celery and sweet potatoes and add them to the stock. Season with the dried peppers, pepper paste, garlic, parsley and sage. Cover the pot, and gently simmer the soup until the vegetables are tender. When the soup is done, turn off the burner, add the greens and put the lid back on the pot. Within five minutes, the greens will be the perfect consistency. Season the soup with salt and hot sauce, if desired. (Any type of greens are perfect in this soup. I always remove the stems from greens and chop them according to the thickness of the leaves. If they are thick, chop or tear them in smaller pieces.)
Use a pound of ground venison, beef or pork, 2 sweet potatoes peeled and cut into sticks, 4 green onions with their tops ... and 4 mini red and yellow peppers sliced.
Saute all these ingredients together and when
Saute all these ingredients together and whenthe meat and vegetables are done, add the following spices:
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1/2 teaspoon of chipotle powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Add a cup of beef broth and simmer gently for another five minutes, then stir in a Tablespoon of chopped cilantro before serving. If you like lots of spice, add enough to satisfy!
3 large sweet potatoes, cooked and cooled
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 large marshmallows
1/4 cup finely chopped nuts
3/4 cup shredded coconut
Preheat your oven to 400°F. Remove the skins from the sweet potatoes and place the flesh in a mixing bowl. Mash them together with the brown sugar and salt.
Divide the mixture into 12 portions. Use each portion to gently form a ball of sweet potato around each marshmallow making sure there are no breaks in the ball that would allow the marshmallow to escape while baking.
Combine the nuts and coconut in a small mixing bowl.
Roll each ball in coconut mixture and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the coconut is toasted.