Sweet potatoes have a long history in the Smith family, going back as far as my grandfather, Pa Smith, who would plant them in organized rows where the vines would leaf out and bloom their beautiful morning glory-type flowers. (Trivia item: Sweet potatoes are actually in the morning glory plant family, Ipomoea). Once they had been harvested, stored and cured, my family would enjoy them throughout the fall and winter. They would boil, bake, soufflé and sauté their way through a variety of sweet and savory recipes that never failed to delight. If a guest was not a sweet potato fan at the beginning of the meal, they would be by the end.
Now, you can find and cook sweet potatoes year-round thanks to modern farming and food transport innovations, but fall and winter are when the good old sweet potato really shines. These are two of my favorite recipes.
sweet potato bread
yield: two 9-inch loaves
12 T butter at room temperature
1 ½ c sugar
1 c dark brown sugar, packed
4 eggs, beaten
3 c all-purpose flour
1 t salt
2 ts baking soda
1 c buttermilk
1 c cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
1 T vanilla extract
½ t ground nutmeg
½ t ground cinnamon
½ t ground ginger
1 c chopped pecans, toasted (If nuts are salted, reduce the salt in the recipe to ½ t.)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 9-inch loaf pans and set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and both sugars. Add eggs, flour and salt, and mix well.
3. In a small bowl, stir the baking soda into the buttermilk; add the mixture to the batter.
4. Mix in the sweet potatoes, vanilla and all of the spices.
5. Blend well, and then add nuts, folding them in until they are evenly distributed in the batter.
6. Divide the batter between the two loaf pans, and bake for 45 to 55 minutes until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
7. Let the loaves cool in the pans for 10 minutes, and then remove them to a wire rack to cool completely. Slice and serve.
sweet potato gratin
serves: 6 to 8
4 T butter
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 T all-purpose flour
1 ½ c heavy cream
4 sweet potatoes (about 2 1/4 lbs.), peeled and cut into 1/4-inch thick rounds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ c fine, fresh breadcrumbs
½ c freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Generously butter a 1 1/2 inch-deep gratin dish, and set aside.
2. Melt 2 T of the butter in a small skillet over low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until it is softened, 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes.
4. Stir in the cream and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally; remove from heat.
5. Arrange the potatoes in layers in the dish, seasoning them with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Pour the cream mixture over the potatoes. Bake for 1 hour or until they are tender.
7. Melt the remaining 2 T butter, and mix with the breadcrumbs and cheese. Sprinkle evenly over the potatoes, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.