Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Things To Do With Sweet Potato.

This week I am focusing on the ideas, and particularly the recipe ideas, of George Washington Carver (c1864-1943), the African-American educator and scientist. Yesterday we looked at some innovative ways of using the cow-pea – until Carver’s time largely used as a fodder crop.

One of the foods that most interested Carver was the sweet potato. It was certainly used as human, as well as cattle, food in his time, but there is no doubt that he helped increase its popularity. He published several bulletins on its cultivation and use, the most important ones from our recipe-perspective being How to Make Sweet Potato Flour, Starch, and Sugar in 1918, and How the Farmer Can Save His Sweet Potatoes and Ways of Preparing Them for the Table, in 1922. There does not seem to be a complete collection of Carver’s works online, which is surprising, given his fame, but the third (1938) edition of the second of these bulletins included the information from the first.

Carver began his advice with the following notes:

As a food for human consumption, the sweet potato has been, and always will be, held in very high esteem and its popularity will increase in this direction as we learn more about its many possibilities.
There is an idea prevalent that anybody can cook sweet potatoes. This is a very great mistake, and the many, many dishes of ill-cooked potatoes that are placed before me as I travel over the South prompt me to believe that these recipes will be of value (many of which I have copied verbatim from Bulletin No. 129, U. S. Department of Agriculture). The above bulletin so aptly adds the following:
The delicate flavor of a sweet potato is lost if it is not cooked properly. Steaming develops and preserves the flavor better than boiling, and baking better than steaming. A sweet potato cooked quickly is not well cooked. Time is an essential element. Twenty minutes may serve to bake a sweet potato so that a hungry man can eat it, but if the flavor is an object, it should be kept in the oven for an hour.

The instructions for making sweet potato flour and sugar would fit well in our ‘Extreme Kitchen DIY’ series, so although I think it unlikely that anyone will make them today, I give them to you out of interest:

Sweet Potato Starch. Household Method
This is very easily made, all that is necessary is to grate the potato, the finer the better, put into a cheese cloth or thin muslin bag and dip up and down, in a vessel of water, squeezing occasionally, continue washing as long as the washings are very milky.
Allow it to settle five or six hours or until the water becomes clear, pour off; rewash the starch, which will be in the bottom of the vessel, stir up well, allow to settle again, pour off the water and let dry, keep the same as any ordinary starch.
Use exactly the same as cornstarch in cooking; I am confident you will find it superior to cornstarch; it makes a very fine quality of library paste, and has very powerful adhesive qualities.
In certain arts and trades it is almost indispensable.
Sweet Potato Sugar
By saving the water which the pulp was washed in first, in the starch making process and boiling down, the same as for any syrup, a very palatable, non-crystalline sugar will be the result; this sugar or syrup can be used in many ways.

For a more practical recipe, perfectly do-able today, here is a nice idea.

No. 30, Sweet Potato Savories
Boil and mash as many sweet potatoes as required; when cold, stir in sufficient flour to form into a paste; roll out and cut into small squares, soak a few bread crumbs in water for 5 or 10 minutes; squeeze dry; add a little chopped parsley, mixed herbs, and a small onion previously soaked in hot water; season with salt and a dash of pepper. Mix all together thoroughly, put a little on each square of paste, and fold over as in sausage rolls; fry in boiling fat until brown; drain and serve.


Peter Hertzmann said...

Actually, the sweet potato syrup sounds like an interesting project. Sweet potatoes seem to have slightly more than 4% sugar, of which about 3/5 is sucrose, 1/5 is glucose. and 1/5 is fructose. I don't know how much can be extracted by dilution in water, as the recipe suggests. I think I'll add it to my "recipes to try" file.

The Old Foodie said...

Sounds like a project, Peter! Let me know if you try it - and what you do with it, of course.