Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Giving the Sweet Potato it's Due

We harvested out sweet potatoes over a month ago, laying them out on my workbench to “cure” and then storing them in our “root cellar”. There are a LOT of sweet potatoes in there. Maybe more than enough.

I made sweet potato fries (my favorite way to eat sweet potatoes), roasted sweet potatoes, and sweet potato chips, but there are generally a limited number of customers in my family when it comes to sweet potatoes. Most everybody will eat the fries, but after that the audience drops substantially to about two. This is a sadness because I’m a big fan of sweet potatoes. In fact, I’m a superfan of this superfood. But I know someone who is more like a KING of sweet potatoes than a mere fan, like me. So, dear readers, let me introduce you to Mr. Jack.

Jack is a retired professor of Towson State University and runs the pool where my children have grown up. He not only makes careful use of the TIME OUT chair and teaches killer water aerobics, he also created and hosts the Pennsylvania Sweet Potato Festival (with the help of his amazing wife Bev). Jack knows more about sweet potatoes than anyone in my world, so rather than write a sub-par post on the beauty of the sweet potato (which I’ve done before), I interviewed Jack!

In one sentence – What’s the best thing about sweet potatoes? (I thought I’d cut right to the chase from the outset, plus Jack is an encyclopedia of sweet potato knowledge and I wanted to contain him.)

Sweetpotatoes are a versatile, great-tasting nutritional natural that can be stored up to 10 months at room temperature.

When Jack says, "nutritional natural", he's talking about the fact that sweet potatoes have more than twice the recommended daily allowance for Vitamin A, over 1/3 for Vitamin C, and 10% for iron. They have more dietary fiber than oatmeal. Let me also note that "sweetpotato" (one word) is now the preferred spelling and that's how Jack spells it, but I can't get used to it (and neither can my spellcheck), so I'm sticking with my own comfort level on this.

So, could we survive on just sweet potatoes? (I’m envisioning a movie at this point….)

No. There is no perfect food. Sweetpotatoes lack sufficient amino acids to support growth. Moderate intake of a variety of foods from all the food groups is the best advice. I recommend taking in 26-30 different colorful items per day.

Jack is nothing, if not honest. And he doesn’t sugar coat the facts, so no new campaign slogan – Fill Your Survival Kit with Sweet Potatoes. I want you to note Jack’s last comment – “26-30 colorful items per day.” Now, that could be a slogan. Or a challenge. But it’s time to get down to the facts….

How many kinds of sweet potatoes are there?

The number world-wide keeps changing because of cross-breeding programs. Currently there are about 7,000 cultivars.

Which kinds are easiest to grow?

Beauregard, Carolina Ruby, Carolina Rose, Orleans, Evangeline, Hernandez – to name a few (or more than a few). Most any variety will grow in well tilled, nutrient rich soil free of weed pressure (and deer!).

When do you plant sweet potatoes?

Slips (sweetpotato starts) are planted in mid-late May after all threat of frost has passed.

How long until you harvest?

Most varieties are ready 90-100 days after planting. Some, like Hernandez, Nancy Hall, Purple Passion and Hayman require 115+ days. Spacing also plays a role. In PA, twelve inches seems to work best.

Which kinds will store the longest?

Most all fully cured sweetpotatoes will store at least nine months in 60-65 degrees in well-insulated boxes or paper bags (not plastic). Spare bedrooms are good places (you might need to warn your guests…) Do NOT allow sweetpotatoes to be exposed to temperatures under 55 degrees.

So, how do you “cure” a sweet potato?

After harvesting store the sweetpotato at 85 degrees and 80% humidity for 7-10 days. For suggestions on how to do this, see our website.

The curing part has always been hardest for me. We do our best, but have yet to successfully cure our sweet potatoes well. Last year I was the lucky winner of a basket of sweet potatoes from Bev and Jack and those potatoes lasted nearly a year!

Worried that my interview is getting a little too fact-filled, I threw in some human interest questions-

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve made with sweet potatoes?

Wine, butter, candy, crab cakes, purple-fleshed pie (just to be clear, he’s talking about sweet potato flesh)

Are you willing to share a secret recipe of yours?


A man of few words, at times. The recipes for Sweet Potato Soup, (a huge crowd pleaser at the festival) is at the end of this post.

Any weird facts about sweet potatoes you could share?

GW Carver invented a sweetpotato glue that was used on all stamps so that they would taste good when licked!

How many years have you been growing sweet potatoes?

16 years.

How many sweet potatoes do you normally grow each year?

Between 4,000 and 8,000 plants. The year I grew 12,000 (one acre), I had 15,000 pounds of sweetpotatoes with 20 varieties, including purple fleshed.

Locals know that sadly there was no Sweet Potato Festival this year due to unforeseen circumstances, so here’s the news we’ve all been waiting to hear –

Will there be a Sweet Potato Festival in 2015?

YES. If we get enough volunteers. (hint) Date: 2015 PA Sweet Potato Festival will be September 26, 2015. To get on the volunteer list (my daughter gets on this list simply for the free sweet potato pancakes! I do it for the interesting people, multitude of sweet potato ideas, and free ticket.), contact

And what’s next for Jack Osman, Sweet Potato Prince? (Prince sounds better than king – alliteration)

Develop a deer-proof fenced-in area for protecting the sweetpotatoes from herds of deer devastating the crops. They love sweetpotatoes, too!

I would like to get some of my sweetpotato products to market…6 varieties of sweetpotato pies, a sweetpotato sports bar that doesn’t taste like the cardboard it’s packaged in! Anyone know of a commercial bakery willing to take a risk?

I want to experiment with my own cross-breeding of new sweetpotato varieties. This may require a small greenhouse to prevent poly-crosses from our honey bees.

Teach people about this amazing vegetable that we have been blessed with and encourage others to get excited about its world-wide potential to help prevent hunger/malnutrition/various diseases.

Promote sweetpotatoes to get the per capita consumption in the US to over 10 pounds per year per person. (In the 1930s it was over 25 pounds; 2003 fell to 3.9 pounds; 2013 now just over 6 pounds.)

Encourage the American Cancer Society to accept the purple-fleshed sweetpotato as an anti-cancer food. The combination of beta carotene and anthocyanins are known anti-oxidants in the initiation stage of cancer cell formation.

Okay people – see what I mean? Jack is more than a prince, he’s an advocate not only for the sweet potato, but for our health and our world. I hope this interview is inspiring you to eat more sweet potatoes, and maybe even to grow some! If you’re ready to plant your own, Jack usually has slips available at the end of May and early June after the danger of frost has passed. He has the widest variety of quality slips available. To get more information e-mail him at

Sweetpotato Soup for a Crowd
This is the recipe used for “Everything Sweetpotato Dinner” during 2006. It can probably serve 30 people. It also freezes nicely for those cold winter nights when you don’t feel like cooking.

10-12 pounds of sweetpotatoes, peeled, chunked, steamed and processed smooth
1 & 1/2 quarts of water (adjust to thickness of soup desired
2 T light brown sugar
8 chicken bullion cubes
1 cup onion, diced
1 cup celery, coarsely chopped
4 ounces of frozen orange juice concentrate
6 ounces of frozen apple juice concentrate
2 bay leaves
2 t thyme
1 t basil
optional – garlic or garlic powder, to taste
Cook over low stove temperature for 30 minutes, stirring at 5 minute intervals

10 minutes before serving add:

2 cups of uncooked, diced sweetpotato (1/4th inch cubes, tip of pinky finger size)
2 cups of thinly sliced/diced apples (1/8th inch thick ½ inch long, scrub skins, leave on)


ŸTop with ground peanuts floating a top each bowl
ŸTop with finely diced crystallized ginger – 1/8th inch cubes – adds a nice kick!

Jack D. Osman
The Wellness Farm, Inc.
Stewartstown, PA  17363
March 25, 2006

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