Let the sky rain potatoes.
–William Shakespeare The Merry Wives of Windsor
And if it does, you’ll be ready.
Though let me apologize for adding to the confusion among potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams. All three are members of different botanical families; the sweet potato is actually the only food plant of the morning glory family.
But who better to explain all this than April McGreger, the daughter of a sweet potato farmer, founder of a farm-driven artisan food business, and a failed Sweet Potato Queen.
As she explains, sweet potatoes have a long Southern tradition, found originally in native “Indian gardens,” adopted by African slave populations who used it to replace their native yam, and integrated to Southern tables, rich and poor. The plant grows well in sandy soil, and kept families and armies alive during and after the Civil War.
But sweet potato consumption has declined as other foods became popular and available, and since sweets are less amenable to industrial production. But if you’re eating colors, as nutritionists recommend, sweets are a great source of complex carbohydrates, vitamin C, and iron, among other good things. It’s the reason they’re appearing as French fries on fast food menus and for their resurgence in heirloom varieties.
I have to admit my sweet potato repertoire is limited. I would never stoop to mini-marshamallows, but only recently became a convert to sweet potatoes with cilantro. After tips on buying, storing, and cooking, McGreger provides recipes that begin with breakfast, move on to sides and salads, include main dishes, and finish with desserts.
She uses sweets for baking in muffins, scones,and coffeecake, and she makes sophisticated casseroles with kale, bourbon, and a savory-sweet gratin with the earthy flavor of Gruyere cheese. She travels around the world, serving sweets with an Indian Buttermilk Raita, a Sweet Potato Hummus, or in a Vietnamese curry with chicken. McGreger offers dueling Sweet Potato Pies–her sister’s simple version and her own tricked out with vanilla, cinnamon, and bourbon. But there’s also a Tarte Tatin, cheesecake, quick bread, bread pudding, blondies, and even caramels.
You’ll never miss the marshmallows!