“Without the sweet potato,” said Robert Odeu, “there would be terrible hunger.” Odeu is a farmer in Uganda, and he is quoted in the first sentence of chapter 27 of James Lang’s book Notes of a Potato Watcher.
Most of the book is about “regular” potatoes, but the one section is about sweet potatoes. As a result, since I am reading the book, even though it is way too soon to be thinking about sweet potatoes, here I am, thinking about them.
The hunger-stopping capabilities of the sweet potato that Odeu was referring to are partly due to its hardiness and productivity, and partly to its keeping qualities.
In my yard, sweets also are productive and not prone to die from diseases, and they also keep through the winter just in a basket on my kitchen floor, so I am aware of those particular benefits.
What comes out in the book, though, is that in other, non-U.S. parts of the world, people prefer differently qualities in their sweets than we do. Varieties like Beauregard that are popular here are orange-fleshed, fairly moist, and very sweet. In other countries, sweets that are more dry, less orange, and less sweet are more popular.
Part of this is a problem, because people in some of those places would benefit from the beta-carotene in orange sweets, but the dryness is attractive because that helps in storage; in some places, sweets are dehydrated for extended storage. The sweets are pounded thin for drying, then ground into a flour that is used (in many ways) in cooking. It would take a lot longer to dehydrate a Beauregard than it would a drier Ugandan variety!
This is relevant to my garden because I grow not only Beauregard, but also a Puerto Rican sweet. I got slips for these Puerto Ricans last year from my friends Jack and Becky. Becky’s family has been growing this particular strain in this county for 103 years. They were a cash-crop for Becky’s father.
However, when I have spoken with Jack and Becky about cooking these sweets, they’ve both emphasized that these are not like standard grocery-store sweets. I had already noticed that they benefited from added liquid after cooking, but Becky also said that putting them in the microwave to cook, like some people do with other sweets, just turns them into hockey pucks. I believe her.
The Puerto Rican sweets have good flavor, but they are definitely dry. They would probably dehydrate well. What this means is that I will be spending some time next fall, looking into dehydrating sweets. I don’t think I’ll be pounding them thin with rocks, Uganda-style, but the general concept is worth considering. Right now, though, I don’t have enough left to experiment on—only enough for another meal or two and to start slips for this summer.