I never was a sweet potato fan. It was not a staple for our family while I was growing up. Mom dedicated a good portion of the huge family garden to raising white potatoes, which were consumed as “new” taters and not cured for winter. Our winter stock of potatoes came from Western Nebraska. Each year Mom and Dad loaded all five of us kids in the truck and made the long drive to Wood River, Nebraska to get our winter supply of potatoes, which amounted to around 500 pounds. They were stored in the cool of our basement during the long winter months. And eventually, the job of picking off the sprouts became one of our winter chores. I don’t remember how often we had to do that, but it was another one of those boring tasks parents assign to the kids.
Our annual drive to get potatoes took place during the early days of autumn. Dad had a camper shell over the truck bed. Plywood and an old remnant of carpet cushioned the floor and a little heater kept us warm in cold weather. Dad rigged up an intercom system from the front of the truck to the back so that we could communicate. It was understood that we only used the intercom in case of a real emergency. No one wanted Dad to come back and “straighten things out” if someone made a complaining tattle-tale call to the front. So, we settled our arguments with some verbal gigging or even a painful pinch to a leg or punch in the arm. Dad, Mom and baby Juli rode up front. The rest of us rode in the back. For five kids, the hour-long drive was an eternity. One year we begged to take our poodle, Cindy, along. About 20 miles down the road she threw up in the back of the truck. A call to the front on the intercom did not get us the desired stop for cleanup. We would have to wait until we got to the potato farm.
One year we had to pick up our own potatoes while the farmer pulled a digger behind a tractor. He told us we had to pick up ALL the potatoes, big and small, and he watched us. Dad had already coached us to poke the small taters back in the ground on the sly. He only wanted the large potatoes. Buying several hundred pounds of potatoes, he didn’t want a lot of little, bitty taters to deal with. Naturally, we kids were not clever enough to pull off poking the small potatoes in the ground and the farmer yelled at us. I believe after that we bought potatoes already bagged in huge gunny sacks. Those were always beautiful, huge potatoes.
My first experience eating sweet potatoes was at a Thanksgiving dinner where some people from Missouri brought sweet potato pie. I was leery from the start. It looked too much like butternut squash to me. I took only a small dab of it and was glad I did. One bite was enough. Over the years I tried sweet potatoes prepared various ways but never acquired a taste for them… until a year ago when I had sweet potato fries in a restaurant. I was hooked.
Early this summer my friend Regina asked if I wanted some sweet potato vine slips. I had never raised them before so she showed me how to plant them and care for them. I got them in a bit late for our area, but they flourished in the hot Oklahoma sun, and the vines spread everywhere. Even when the rest of the garden quit producing and I turned the area over to our orphaned deer, Daisy, the sweet tater vines continued to flourish. Soon the vine patch grew so big Daisy used it as a “leaping” obstacle when she ran sprints in the area. Other times I would find her laying in the cool of the vines, only her head visible with ears sticking up.
I read that sweet potatoes should be dug prior to a first frost. I knew a frost was still a ways off for our area, but I was hungry for sweet potato fries last night so FD and I decided to dig up one plant and see what was underneath. Planting late and harvesting early, I expected a few small tubers. I cannot explain the jaw-dropping surprise when the shovel produced these mammoth tubers! These were not anything like the beautiful store-bought kind. The color was different too. What happened?
After a little research I discovered it isn’t all that uncommon to yield super colossal sweet potatoes. I decided to try just one tuber last night, thinking these monstrosities might be woody. But they were perfect! I roasted two batches of fries in the oven, which we shared with FD’s Mom and husband. I tossed them in olive oil, sea salt, and a sprinkle of spicy seasoning. I steamed a few for use in sweet potato pancakes for breakfast this morning.
I am not sure what I will do if all my plants yield such a crop of monster tubers. I think I will devote a little time to researching new recipes. But right now, sweet potato pancakes are calling my name!
Isn’t it wonderful that, in life, we are given chances again and again to experience and come to love, something that in our younger years we turned our noses up at or didn’t have time for? How sometimes our tastes change and sometimes senses are altered, and what once did not appeal, now piques our interest? I still prefer my old friend, the white potato. Sometimes the old standby’s are the most comforting and reliable. However, there is something intriguing about the unusual neighbor that has been around for a long time but not really known. I am finally welcoming the tuber that waited patiently for me to finally invite it in and give it another whirl.
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