The Honored Sweet Potato of North Carolina

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.

Old-Fashioned-Sliced-SP-PieOld Fashioned Sliced Sweet Potato Pie

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….

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His Gifts Abound

The afternoon sun gently warms a quiet beach overlooking the Albemarle Sound. A sliver of woodland hides the stretch of sand nestled secretly on the edge of a very crowded island.

Sitting on the sand enjoying the soft breeze and the golden sun lowering in the western sky, my thoughts turn toward the garden of vegetables that I will soon be planting as spring is quickly approaching.

The gentle waves lap at the water’s boundary and I notice the seaweed that had washed to shore. Surely those plants are full of minerals from the sea water. Next time, I think to myself, I should bring a bag to collect the seaweed to add to my compost pile.

One of my children asks me to take a walk to the far end of the beach where the sand stops and the forest and grasses again stretch to the water’s edge.  I look down and find a piece of white plastic that the moving waters had wrapped around the root of a small tree.

Surprised to see any man-made materials on this otherwise litter-free beach, I reach down to rescue the plant from the confines of the plastic. As I unwrap, my heart sinks in humility simultaneously as it rejoices to Heaven. A plastic grocery bag, an un-asked-for gift from the Father of all creation, Who knows my every thought and need.

His goodness continually amazes me.

The circle of life.  Rainwater has, over thousands of years, washed much of the soil’s nutrients into the seawater.  Aquatic plants feed off of the water’s bounty, then die and what is washed up on shore is broken down by the soil’s microorganisms.  In my case, the decay will take place in my compost pile.  The rich compost will then be turned into my new garden beds to feed the vegetable plants. Their fruits will nourish my family.

So many gifts. The beach, the sun, the plastic bag.  Seaweed, soil, micro-organisms, land to grow vegetables to feed my family. God is so good to us, every day.

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on making a difference.

So much wanting to be a part of lives here.  To make a difference.  My thoughts are always going back to gardening.  I wish I was successful at it.  It is so right.  So natural, to be growing our own food. The circle of life, the way God has always intended it to be.

Many people are hungry for lack of food, many people who have lots to eat are hungry for lack of real, nourishing food.  The local food bank gives, but not much fresh. Volunteers pick up produce from the market only sometimes.  They have no refrigeration to keep food fresh.

So much is thrown away just because it has a bruise or is past the date stamped on the package.  So heart-breaking to not only have to see the amount of good food filling the dumpster, but also to have to be the employee dumping it when I know that my own family is certainly not the only family who would be so thankful to have that food.  Wages are so low compared to the prices of good quality food.

What if there was a community gardening project, where people could work together, and help each other grow food?  So beneficial for mankind.  Bonding folks in the community together, not just for the good of all, but for the life of all.  Being outdoors in the sunshine, fresh air, rain.  Sharing creation with creation.

All life is good.  Still pondering how to make a difference.

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Sea Angels of the Outer Banks

It is claimed that there have been sightings in the waters outside the outer banks of what were called “sea angels.”

Modern scientists, however, have given that name to a small creature found in deep Arctic waters that is related to the slug, or snail without a shell. Its tiny translucent body has clear appendages that look like wings flapping about in the water.

Surely, those tiny sea angels were not what was seen in the obx waters.  Locals have described their “sea angel” as a porpoise-sized creature with no scales and having a snout similar to a pig. It has two seal-like flippers and swims in the fashion of a turtle.

A legend here on the outer banks tells how their ‘sea angel’ came to roam these waters.

Portsmouth Island is the uninhabited barrier island just south of Ocracoke Island.  But it hasn’t always been uninhabited.  After the days of the first settlers to Roanoke Island, the outer banks became the home of many groups of people including shipwreck survivors, wealthy families from the north, outcasts from persecutions, itinerant preachers and salesman.  But all people who stayed here found their living one way or another from the sea.

One such man, by the name of Esau, lived in a crude hut, off by himself at the northernmost part of Portsmouth Island.  He fished the waters from the ocean, from the Ocracoke Inlet, and from the waters of Pamlico Sound. At times when he caught more than he needed, he sold his extra to the folks living in Portsmouth Town, the local fishing village.

One night, Esau was awakened from sleep by a commotion in the waters near his fishing boat. Esau exhausted all his energy beating and eventually killing a mako shark that had blocked a beautiful mermaid from escape into the open ocean.  Esau awoke the next day on the beach with the grateful mermaid watching over him.

As the days and months passed, Esau and the lovely mermaid spent much time together. She told him many secrets of the sea, and revealed great times and places to fish.  Eventually they fell in love and held their own marriage ceremony on the beach witnessed by creatures of land and sea. Both were aware, however that they were disobeying the laws of the sea.  Mermaids were to lure men to their doom in the open waters, not build relationships on land with them.  So the couple met secretly by night, hoping not to be discovered.  They were extremely happy for a few weeks following the union, but one night Esau was awakened and summoned to meet before Poseidon, the king of the undersea. Esau was dragged beneath the waves by four spirits who escorted him to Poseidon’s court.

Following a lengthy hearing where Esau’s crimes as well as charities toward humanity were on display, the king declared the man’s punishment.  Esau was never allowed to return to land, but was given the body much like that of a turtle without the protective shell, with flippers and skin rather than scales.  He was sentenced to slowly roam the seas looking for the ghosts of drowned seamen who were restless for not having a proper burial.

Poseidon himself promised to protect this “sea angel” and would cause harm to those who tried to harm him, and bless, both on land and sea, men who helped him out of nets or other dangers.

Has this “sea angel” been given a modern scientific name? Or has he escaped, undetected by all but the few who have been blessed by his presence?

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Whalebone Junction… No Bones About It

A person can learn so much just by asking.  I had heard the name Whalebone Junction since moving here to the outer banks, but I just assumed it was the name of one of the many towns that border the coastal waters of North Carolina.

I love to look at maps, and lately as I come across the name of a town or waterway that I am unfamiliar with, I have been “mapquesting” the name to get a better picture of the lay of the land (and sea) named in the article.  Today after hearing Whalebone Junction again, I determined to find out its whereabouts.

Turns out, Whalebone Junction is closer than I even suspected.  During a major storm, back in the 1930’s, a dead whale washed up onto a Pea Island beach.  It had been carried by the water on to the dunes where it continued to decay for the next year.  One man, named Alexander Midgett had an idea for what to do with the bones.  He carried the remains in his Model T truck and brought them to Nags Head where he deposited them at the corner where Beach Road turns left and becomes NC 12 south towards Hatteras Island.

Across the street from the bones’ new site was an Esso filling station that Mr. Midgett owned. He then renamed his business Whalebone Service Station.  The bones became a well known landmark, attracting many passersby, and the crossroads became affectionately known as Whalebone Junction.  It is reported that the service station burned down in the 1940’s and the bones were moved to an undisclosed location.

But their memory remains. Today Whalebone Junction encompasses the entire web of roads where Rt 158, Rt 64, Beach Rd, Old Oregon Inlet Rd. and Rt. 12 all come together, but there is no road sign or other marker to distinguish it.

Newcomers to the area must inquire to find out about Whalebone Junction.

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Yaupon, an outer banks lifesaver

I had heard about the Yaupon Holly plant in studying about native flora here on the outer banks of North Carolina, but hadn’t given the bush much further thought until I happened upon a blurb in a short story I was reading this morning.   The folks that have chosen to live here, ‘Bankers’ as they are called, have always been a strong sort. They’ve had to come up with creative means of survival here on these sandy, salt marshy barrier islands, mostly from the fish and other aquatic creatures teaming the surrounding waters. But there have been times when the sound was frozen or the fish were, for some reason, not biting that the locals had to take other measures to keep from starving. It is said that they have even had to resort to eating seagull eggs, when the hens quit laying.

Early American settlers learned about yaupon tea from the native American Indians who used the tea in their ceremonies and rituals.  The indians called the tea “white drink” because, they believed, it would be used to purify the body of anger and falsehoods. After fasting for three days, the indians drank massive amounts of the tea which eventually caused them to vomit.  The settlers, though, called the tea “black drink” because of the dark color of the tea when made from the bruised, then smoked, leaves of the bush.

Since those early years, yaupon tea, made from ilex vomitoria, has been used as a substitute for other teas and even coffee, having nearly as much caffeine. Bankers have continued to drink the tea for refreshment, and even more so during hard-times, like the war and depression years, when they couldn’t get a hold of other teas or coffee. At one time Kinnakeet was a major Yaupon producing region and the locals there were able to make a little money selling yaupon bales to northern cities, like Baltimore and New York.

But the hard times here on the outer banks have made a tough, proud, but sensitive kind of people.  Locals have always helped each other out to make it through, and they don’t take kindly being looked down upon about those thin years when they had to rely upon the Yaupon Holly for their survival.

If you’re interested, Erin has done some more extensive research on the history of yaupon tea here.  She even includes recipes on how to make both green and black varieties, in case you’d like to try some.

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The Beginning of Carolina Shell

Carolina Shell is born today, my new baby girl.  She has very limited ability to express herself right now, except with jerky screeches and sometimes tiresome wails of self-centeredness.  But with daily practice, she will learn to walk and talk with gracefulness.

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