I have lived in this great state for several years and I am only now realizing how important the sweet potato is to the folks in North Carolina.
Having spent much time at local farmer’s markets, I noticed that sweet potatoes are a favorite amongst farmers and customers alike, but it is only now that I am learning just how special this root vegetable is.
Two years ago, I happened to pick up a six-pack of beautiful, healthy sweet potato starts from a local garden center, figuring that I would give them a try in my new garden spot. Throughout the summer those potato vines grew like crazy spreading great distances across furrows and over neighboring beds. The harvested tubers were plump and sweet, making me feel like I was quite the gardener, even though the rest of the garden’s bounty was rather slim.
But I’ve come to find out that sweet potatoes grow well all across these Carolinian soils. In fact, it is reported by Cornell University that North Carolina grows nearly half of all sweet potatoes produced in the United States.
In the mid-1990’s, thanks to the perseverance of some fourth graders and their teacher from the town of Wilson, the sweet potato became the North Carolina state vegetable.
The sweet potato is also a nutritional powerhouse. Each potato is loaded with good fiber, Vitamin C, calcium, Vitamin A, thiamin and the antioxidant beta carotene. It is also a great source of the trace mineral, manganese, for strong bones and normal blood glucose levels.
The colonists who first came to the Carolinas learned about sweet potatoes from the native Americans, so to celebrate the long-lasting tradition of the vegetable I will close by sharing with you an old-timey recipe from the N.C. SweetPotato Commission.
Pastry for 9″ double-crust pie
3 medium sweet potatoes (about 2 1/4lbs), peeled
and sliced into 1/4″ rounds
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 Tablespoon butter, cut
Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a 9-inch pie plate with 1 layer of pastry; set aside.
Combine 1 cup water and salt in a large saucepan. Add sweet potatoes, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, and simmer until sweet potatoes are barely tender when pierced, about 5 minutes. Drain slices, and rinse with cold water until cool to touch. Drain slices well; transfer them to a large mixing bowl.
To sweet potatoes, add sugars, lemon juice, flour and pumpkin pie spice. Toss gently with a spatula until slices are evenly coated. Spoon sweet potatoes into pastry-lined pie plate; dot top of potatoes with butter. Place top pastry over filling, and crimp top and bottom pastries together to make decorative edge. Cut 3 or 4 slits in the top to allow steam to escape. Bake until crust is browned and sweet potatoes are tender when pierced, about 50 minutes. Cool pie on wire rack at least 1 hour. Serve warm or cool.
Until next time….