By Mary Peryea
Did you know that the sweet potato is one of the most nutritious vegetables on the planet. This orange tuber offers an unsurpassed source of beta carotene; providing 214 percent of the daily requirement for Vitamin A in a single cup serving; and a significant source of Vitamin C, manganese, Vitamin B6, and potassium. That single cup serving contains only 180 calories and no fat.
Paul Arnold, of Pleasant Valley Farm, is one of the Saratoga Farmers’ Market vendors who sells sweet potatoes throughout the winter. Arnold began growing sweet potatoes about eight years ago. He sees them as a good crop to push through the long winter months until April. In May, he plants the next crop.
Sweet potatoes like loose sandy soil and warm weather. Ideally, the soil temperature should be above 50 degrees. That can be a challenge in our regions and helps explain why most sweet potatoes grown commercially come from the South.
In May, “slips” – or plants with no roots cut from last year’s harvest of sweet potatoes – are planted. They grow until late September, when cooler temperatures begin to prevail. Then, a “bed lifter” pulled by a tractor loosens the soil in the fields and the sweet potatoes are pulled up by hand. The sweet potatoes can’t be harvested by machine because they skin too easily.
After the harvest, the sweet potatoes are cured for five days at a temperature of 90 degrees. In the South, they can be left in the fields to cure. Here, they require some help. Pleasant Valley Farm has a room dedicated to storing winter squash and sweet potatoes, which require similar conditions. This process of curing turns the potatoes’ starch to sugar, sweetening them up.
Following the curing, sweet potatoes are stored at 55 to 60 degrees, with a humidity of 70 per cent. The storage room at Pleasant Valley Farm is heated, insulated, and dehumidified. In this environment, sweet potatoes can be stored for up to eight months.
What’s the best way to eat a sweet potato? For Arnold, the answer is like candy – almost. Steam the potatoes until soft, then slice or mash and eat them plain. Their inherent sweetness shines through.
Visit the Saratoga Farmers’ Market from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays at the Lincoln Baths Building in the Saratoga Spa State Park.
Sweet Potato Fries with Yogurt Honey Dip
Adapted from recipe in Cooking Light, shared by My Saratoga Kitchen Table
*Ingredients currently available at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market
• 2 sweet potatoes*
• 2 Tablespoons olive oil
• 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary*
• 2 garlic cloves, minced*
• 2 teaspoons paprika
• ½ cup plain Greek yogurt*
• 4 teaspoons of honey*
• ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Clean the potatoes and cut into steak fries.
2. In a medium bowl, add olive oil, rosemary, and garlic. Add the potatoes slices and coat well. Sprinkle with paprika.
3. Place potatoes on a sheet pan and bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until tender and browned.
4. In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, honey and vanilla. Chill and serve with potatoes.