February 22nd is National Cook a Sweet Potato Day! The sweet potato got its start in an environment very different than the Finger Lakes. However, we are recognizing this nutritious root vegetable because there is a “growing” interest in cultivating it in this region—and there’s a lot to know about its characteristics and ways to cook with it!
According to Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Vegetable Program, an estimated 200 acres of sweet potatoes are being grown across New York State. They are gaining traction with organic farmers and in some cases are replacing winter squash production because sweet potatoes can have minimal issues with disease or insects.
Although sweet potatoes originated in Central and South America, Steve Reiners of Cornell AgriTech reported in May 2020 in the Democrat & Chronicle that there is increasing attention being paid towards growing sweet potatoes right here in the Finger Lakes. He recommended going for a variety that can work with the shorter growing season, such as Covington and Carolina Ruby.
Although they look tough and durable sweet potatoes are thin skinned and not great keepers so don’t buy more than you’ll eat in a week or two.
As for cooking, baking is a time-honored method. Scrub them, skip any wrappings and bake in a 375º oven until utterly yielding when pierced with a knife, an hour or more, depending on the size. If you want a sweet potato for supper and don’t want to wait that long, pressure cook for about 25 minutes. After a fast release of the pressure, check to make sure they’re soft. If not, return the lid and cook another 5 minutes. You can also steam them, either whole or cut into chunks, and you can boil them, although I never like the idea of diluting their flavor. As for the microwave, I don’t have one, but I trust Elizabeth Schneider, author of Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables, when she says that the microwave will utterly compromise the flavor and texture of these tubers, so don’t even think about it.
Read more about sweet potatoes from Madison’s book here.