Thursday, August 23, 2007

Vegetable Confectionary.

Today, August 23rd

A newspaper article on this day in 1943 described the “bright new future for the sweet potato”. Professor Ware of Alabama Polytechnic had given a demonstration of a “surprising array of new concoctions” made from the vegetable. One of these concoctions was Alayam (an intentional anagram of Malaya? If so, why?), a sweetened, dehydrated product that was 48% sugar (making it no surprise that it tasted ‘like caramel taffy’). This basic product was then used to manufacture a number of other foods, such as breakfast cereal, pie-crust, and a sort of candy made in the form of pretzel-like sticks flavoured with (depending on which report you read) with ‘peanuts, pecans, coconut or pineapple’, or ‘oranges, nuts, or macaroon’.

The professor hoped (or expected) that his invention would become a regular food after the war, but the world seemed to have been underwhelmed by the idea, and it did not happen - unless we are all eating it unawares in the same way that we consume vast quantities of corn syrup.

Professor Ware was not the first to see the possibilities in this sweet, carbohydrate-rich vegetable. George Washington Carver, the brilliant African-American agricultural scientist had promoted it and been creative with it at least a decade before. Carver developed 118 products from the sweet potato. Not all of these were edible - they included postage-stamp glue, ink, and a form of rubber – but the vast majority were. Amongst the food products were things like mock coconut, mock ginger, and substitutes for coffee, egg yolk, and tapioca. I am not sure why it was felt that the world needed a substitute for tapioca, but it was there, if your need was desperate.

One of Carver’s promotional methods was to publish bulletins describing the use of various products. Here are a couple of sweet potato recipes from Bulleting Number 38, 1936. Who needed Alayam after all?

Sweet Potato Muffins
Boil until thoroughly done a sweet potato weighing about 3/4 of a pound; mash very fine; pass through colander to free it from lumps; add to it a large tablespoonful of butter and a little salt; whip well, now add 1/2 cupful of milk and two well beaten eggs and flour enough to make a soft batter, which will be about two cupfuls. Before adding the flour sift into it one teaspoon of baking powder. Bake in muffin rings or gem pans.

Sweet Potato Nuts
Take one pint of boiled and mashed potatoes, one pint of toasted bread crumbs rolled fine, one pint of mixed nut meats chopped fine (peanuts are excellent); season with salt, a little pepper, also sage and mace if desired; take the yolks of two eggs; stir in two teaspoons of baking powder; whip until light; pour it into the above mixture and stir well; form into small cakes; dip each into the whites of the eggs, then into shredded cocoanut and brown in a frying pan containing a little pork fat (not deep fat) turn; brown on both sides.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A peppercorn ransom.

Quotation for the Day ….

Do you know what breakfast cereal is made of ? It's made of all those little curly wooden shavings you find in pencil sharpeners ! Roald Dahl


Anonymous said...

I think Alayam must stand for Alabama-yam. In the South, sweet potatoes are often called yams and we Americans seem to have a thing for combining words to make new words (NORAD).

The Old Foodie said...

Brilliant Sally! That must be it. Unless someone else comes in with a better idea, I'll assume this is correct.