The origins of the sweet potato date back to prehistoric times in tropical America. Columbus found Native Americans eating the potatoes in the West Indies. He brought the sweet potato to Europe in the 1500s. Historic records show explorer Hernando De Soto found sweet potatoes growing in Indian gardens here in Louisiana. However, it was not until after World War I that the sweet potato became popular as a cash crop in the state. Botanically, the Louisiana yam is a sweet potato, but the term “yam” is applied to the scientifically developed sweet potatoes grown in Louisiana today. There are no true “yams” produced for food in the United States. The true yam, a common food in some parts of the world, is an entirely different plant than the sweet potato. Louisiana sweet potatoes are “moist-fleshed” that turn soft and moist during cooking. By the 1930s, the Puerto Rican sweet potato had taken over most of the Southern acreage. Louisiana State University AgCenter researchers have conducted extensive studies on the sweet potato and developed many new plant varieties for production. In 1987, the “Beauregard” variety was developed specifically for the unique soil and climate conditions of Louisiana. The Beauregard has become a favorite of consumers due to its firm flesh and smooth texture. It is uniform in size, has stringless orange-colored flesh, and a light rose-colored skin.
The Louisiana sweet potato industry is concentrated in the south central part of the state, with additional acreage in the northeastern part of the state. Approximately 75% of the crop goes to the processor for canning, and the other 25% is sold on the fresh market. The Louisiana sweet potato season begins with planting between April 1st and June 15th. Vine cuttings without roots are placed into the ground. The vine is twisted so that at least three nodules are underground from which roots will grow and eventually sprout. It takes approximately 140 days for the vines to produce a mature potato. Harvest usually begins in early August and extends through mid-November. To harvest sweet potatoes, a spade fork is used to dig up the potatoes. This loosens the soil so the tubers are not injured. Once harvested, the potatoes are sent to storage houses where they are kiln dried and held for about two weeks to allow natural chemical changes to occur to make them moist and sweet. Once the potatoes have been cured, they can be stored indefinitely in the kilns. This process allows the consumer to enjoy fresh sweet potatoes year-round.
Sweet potatoes are one of the most nutritionally complete foods. Their deep orange color denotes large quantities of beta-carotene, which the body needs as Vitamin A. Sweet potatoes are also an excellent source of carbohydrates, calcium, iron, vitamins B & C, potassium, and fiber. One baked sweet potato only contains 161 calories. A recent study by the National Academy of Sciences cited sweet potatoes as one of the top four foods that may help prevent cancer. It is said that sweet potatoes provide many benefits for numerous health conditions.
TERMS TO KNOW
Beta Carotene - A red-orange pigment called a carotenoid
Canning - Since it is not recommended to dry package sweet potatoes, they are put in jars or cans with clean boiled water
Fresh market - A place to sell fresh produce
Kiln-drying - A process of dehydrating potatoes
Sweet potato pudding casserole
6 to 8 sweet potatoes
½ cup butter
¼ cup evaporated milk
½ to 1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Boil potatoes until fork tender; drain and let cool to touch. Peel potatoes.
Combine potatoes, butter, milk, eggs, sugar, and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl; beat until well combined. Add additional milk if mixture is too thick.
Place potato mixture in a lightly greased 3-quart baking dish; top with marshmallows, as desired. Bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Yield: 8 to 10 servings.
Louisiana Farm Bureau Women Cookbook, Page 27
Submitted by Joan Falgoust of St. James Parish
Pete the Potato