Tuesday, October 16, 2012

One Potato, Two Potato, Sweet Potato, VOLE!

All summer long I raved about my sweet potatoes. I’d put more in this year than ever and they look vibrant and healthy, sprawling over the garden edges in a gorgeous show of green with hints of purple. This past week, I decided to dig a few and make sweet potato fries on the grill. The presence of both cats, sitting like vultures on the border of the garden as I began to dig should have been my first clue that something was amiss. As soon as I began to dig, they began to pace and prowl. The first potato I dug looked gorgeous! From one side. The other side was completely eaten away by some underground thief. After a few more turns of the shovel, the older cat pounced and quickly darted away carrying a limp brownish-gray figure. Voles. Ugh. The rest of the dig went much the same way. Great day for the cats, not such a great day for me. 

I salvaged what I could because sweet potatoes are one of the nutritional powerhouses that I try to pack in to as many meals as I can. They contain beta carotene, vitamin C, iron, potassium, fiber and complex carbohydrates, to name a few of their benefits. My children shrink from their oddly sweet taste, just as I did when I was a child. Vegetables aren’t supposed to taste sweet, or so I thought. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I discovered what a boon they are – yummy, sweet, healthy, and relatively low in calories. I tricked my own children in to eating sweet potato fries by growing white sweet potatoes one year. I sliced them up, tossed them with grapeseed oil and flaked salt, and grilled them to perfection. The kids thought they were especially delicious fries. I clued them in after two or three meals and now they’ll eat sweet potato fries even if they’re orange. 

One of the challenges of growing sweet potatoes for me (besides the new challenge of a resident vole colony), is figuring out how to cure them. They need hot, humid temperatures for a few weeks to cure so that they’ll last through the winter. Heating with wood makes our house relatively warm, but not at all humid. Last year’s sweet potatoes lasted until January. This year I’m trying a new trick, suggested by the sweet potato queen and king who live just around the corner (more about them later). I’ve double wrapped them in newspaper and have them nestled in a warm corner. We’ll see what happens.

The vole-damaged potatoes, I’ll cook up and make in to a mash to freeze. Then I can use them for sweet potato pie, bread, and the favorite in this house – sweet potato pancakes. 

The chickens are currently digging up my sweet potato bed eating grubs and ruining any of the remaining vole tunnels. I’ve yet to decide on a battle plan for next year’s voles, but would welcome your ideas. 

Lucky for me, the Pennsylvania Sweet Potato festival is held just down the road. My daughter is a regular volunteer, working for sweet potato pancakes. I joined her this year and tasted a few of the sweet potato pies (vanilla, chocolate, blueberry). Bev and Jack Osman host the sweet potato festival on their beautiful farm in Stewartstown PA. You can dig your own sweet potatoes or buy them already dug. The sweet potato theme carries through the day with music, crafts, and lots of sweet potato food. I should have written this post a month ago to remind everyone, but be sure to watch for the festival next year.  

Locals can learn about sweet potatoes and many other wellness topics by attending classes led by Bev and Jack this fall at the Wellness Center at the farm this fall.
Stopping by their stand at the farmer’s market this weekend, I picked up a brochure entitled, “Sweet Taters for Your Little Tots” full of ideas to help you raise sweet potato lovers from an early age. I wish I’d tried a few of these tricks when mine were still malleable. Here’s a few of the suggestions: 

  1. You can easily make sweet potato baby food by baking a sweet potato at 450 for 25-30 minutes and then scooping out the potatoes and pureeing them.
  2. Sweet potatoes can be diced in to finger food, microwaved a few minutes and served with a side of yogurt for dipping.
  3. Add sweet potato puree to the cheese sauce in mac n cheese.
  4. And of course, make fries out of them.
Now’s the time to stock up on local sweet potatoes in season to eat all winter long. Just be sure to buy cured sweet potatoes, or cure them yourself in a warm bathroom. 

I’ll be experimenting with adding sweet potato mash to many meals this winter, since I’ve got a freezer full. If I stumble upon any masterpieces, I’ll be sure to let you know.

1 comment:

  1. Love the title! Also love sweet potatoes and thanks for the ideas of additional ways to serve them.

    My farmer's market supplier explained the "curing" too. Never knew about it.