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How to Grow and Cook Sweet Potatoes

Anne K Moore

You grow Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) from rooted cuttings, called slips, planted into warm garden soil. Their growing requires 90-150 days to mature, depending on type.

The soil should be sandy loam, well dug and aerated. Loose, fluffy soil is ideal. Mix in a low nitrogen fertilizer before you put the potatoes in the ground. The plants or slips should go in the rows 1 foot apart. Plant them deep so that only the leaves are above ground. The rows should be 3 feet apart. Don’t let the sweet potatoes dry out until they have been established. Then cut back on the watering to just when the soil dries out.

Sweet potatoes are a southern crop. Most need 120 days to mature in the ground. You can grow sweet potatoes in colder areas if you have at least 95 days of hot weather. Look for short time maturing varieties if you are planting in colder areas. The trouble with northern grown sweet potatoes is getting them cured properly after you dig them.

After they are dug, usually in mid-August, you can leave these potatoes outdoors in the south, under a roof, for a couple of weeks. The curing process needs to take place at least at 85 degrees F. and 90% humidity. In hot dry states and colder climes, you might get the potatoes to mature but getting them table ready could pose a problem.
These tropical vegetables love the heat and humidity of Southern summers, but must come out of the ground before any frost hits the garden. When the vines turn yellow, it is time to dig. If frost is forecast, dig them even if the plants are still green. Even a light frost will travel down the stem and damage the swollen roots we know as sweet potatoes.

Cut the vines, and then carefully dig the roots, which bruise quite easily, with a spading fork, gently lifting the soil from deep underneath the plants.

The next problem will be to get them to “sweeten.” Sweet potatoes come out of the ground starchy. They need high heat and humidity to come to their full sweet potential. The longer you can store them at 85 degrees temperature and 90 per cent humidity, up to two weeks, the sweeter they will become. If summer has turned to late fall before your harvest in Northern gardens, try curing the sweet potatoes in the kitchen, usually the warmest and most humid room in the house.

Once the sweet potatoes are dried and cured, they can be stored at warm temperatures, anything above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Six to eight weeks of storage will improve their sugar content and sweetness. Colder storage will harden the core of the sweet potato and ruin the taste. Never, ever put your raw sweet potatoes into the refrigerator. Cook them first. To keep them for any length of time, wash them, boil or bake them, then after draining, package them with their skins intact and freeze or refrigerate them.

You won’t have to worry about storage if you try Linda’s…

Sweet Potato Pone Cake with Lemon Glaze
Linda Weiss

The lemon flavored sweet potato pone that my father loved inspired this very moist and sweet cake with a touch of lemon flavoring. The sweet potato pone was made by an elderly woman who knew and cooked by the old foodways¹ at a little café in southwest Alabama. Her name has slipped my mind over the years, but the thought of her luscious sweet potatoes has not. 

This cake has no cinnamon, no spices, but is very moist and delicious with a nice contrast in flavors from the lemon extract and the lemon-flavored yogurt. I like my cake sweet, and it is, sweet and Southern, just like you would expect from a sweet potato cake. 
¹Foodways: Cooking the old way, preserving the past.

I used 3 medium baked sweet potatoes to make 2 cups. Make sure they are completely done. The potatoes will be very soft and you can squeeze them.

3 sticks softened butter
3 cups sugar
2 cups packed mashed sweet potatoes
6 eggs (at room temperature)
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 (6 ounce) container lemon flavored yogurt
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 325º. Prepare a large tube pan by spraying with baking spray.
In a large mixing bowl with paddle attachment, add the butter and sugar. Beat until creamy.
Add the eggs one at a time and mix well. Add the mashed sweet potatoes, and mix well on low speed. Add lemon extract. Mix the salt and baking soda into the flour. Alternate the flour mixture and yogurt into the batter. Turn mixer on medium high and beat for 1 minute. Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan. Bake for approximately 65 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Place on a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes. Turn out onto a heat proof serving plate. (I like to turn the cake back over to the top side). Let cool before slicing. Serves 8-10.

Lemon Glaze
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
Mix together and drizzle over the cake.



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