How to get the best out of your sweet potatoes

Slow cooked Louisiana sweet potatoes

Slow cooked Louisiana sweet potatoes

If you love sweet potatoes, and wish that you were able to have that “just-baked” flavor year-round, there is a way which yields baked sweet potatoes that taste like they came out of the oven, year round (almost!).

Although I grew up for the most part in Louisiana, I was never fond of sweet potatoes (or pumpkin).  I thought it was disgusting to put marshmallows on your dinner plate, or to cover something savory with a lot of a thick sugary syrup.  I was always fond of sweets, just not on my dinner plate.  So, the whole sweet potato casserole and pumpkin pie or sweet potato pie at Thanksgiving was just not my thing.

Then I met my husband, and his family.  They are from central Louisiana, Avoyelles parish, which grows some of the best sweet potatoes. At one of the first dinners at his parents house, his mother served baked sweet potatoes, in their jackets topped with a little bit of unsalted butter.  I felt obligated to try everything she had prepared, of course. It was one of the best things I had ever put into my mouth!  It actually tasted like marshmallows.  Which leads me to believe how the whole marshmallow thing started, as an attempt to regain the taste of properly cured sweet potatoes (not available in supermarkets).

My mother-in-laws’ instructions are to buy a case of sweet potatoes in October or November directly from the farm (they are surrounded by them.)  The aunts usually buy a few pounds first and bake them before investing in the many cases that the extended family will end up purchasing.  It is imperative that the farmer has “cured” the potatoes, and that they are still covered in a good layer of dirt from the ground (as in, not washed).  Why?  I don’t know.  But I’ve also had old-timey farmers out here tell me not to wash my just-picked blueberries before freezing as it will wash the flavor away.  Hmmm.  But, apparently, there is something to this dirt on the sweet potato.  It does seem to protect them from the sun so that they don’t sprout as quickly.  The curing process helps the starches convert to sugars, thus developing the very sweet potatoes that are so good.  Freshly dug sweet potatoes are not sweet at all.

When you receive your 40 pound case of sweet potatoes, place them in a cool dry locations for a few months.  I usually place them in my laundry room and the tubers start sprouting by the end of January.  This winter, I left them on my front porch, and they have yet to sprout (and, this is one of the best batches yet).  Go figure.  As you need them, bake them on a foil lined baking pan at 350 degrees for about 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Not 45 minutes.  The foil simply helps with cleanup.  At 45 minutes of baking, the smaller potatoes are technically “cooked”, but, let them cook another 20 or 30 minutes and the sugars in the sweet potato will caramelize, and you will end up with sweet gooey sugars around the bottom of the sweet potatoes.  This is where the inherent marshmallow taste comes from.  Let the sweet potatoes cool.  Serve immediately with butter, or, transfer the baking sheet to the freezer.  Once frozen, transfer to a freezer bag.  To reheat, remove a few potatoes from the freezer bag, and place in the fridge to thaw overnight, or on the counter if you only have a few hours.  Microwave or reheat in oven.  The frozen potatoes will release a little bit of water during the thawing process, but, they will still retain the best taste of a properly stored and cured sweet potato!

If you see sweet potatoes in the early fall at your farmer’s market, try a few.  But, before you invest in a whole case, it’s always best to know how you will utilize all of them, and, how you will will store them throughout the winter (and spring!)

To learn more about how to cure sweet potatoes, you can find the information here – http://www.lsuagcenter.com/en/crops_livestock/crops/sweet_potatoes/LSU+AgCenter+Horticulturist+Discusses+Curing+and+Storing+Sweet+Potatoes.htm

Hopefully, you can became a fan of sweet potatoes, too!

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