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How to Cure Sweet Potatoes

10/23/2013 8:56:00 AM

Tags: sweet potatoes, recipes, Ilene White Freedman, Maryland

Sweet potatoesAre your sweet potatoes sweet? The first year we grew sweet potatoes, we dug some up and brought them home to bake. Our very first home grown sweet potatoes! They were…not so great. Starchy and zero sweetness. At a total loss, we checked the internet. Little did we know, you have to cure sweet potatoes to turn their starches into sugar. Curing sweet potatoes requires a warm, humid environment for a period of 4 days to two weeks. Ideally, 80-85 degrees with 80-90 percent humidity. The closer you come to these ideal conditions, the less time it takes to do the job.

After curing, you are supposed to store them at 55-60 degrees for six to eight weeks to finish developing the sugars. We don’t do this, and it doesn’t seem to matter.

Meeting these conditions was trial and error for us. We tried too hard at the beginning. We stacked up crates and put a table cloth over the crates, making a little tent. We put a mini space heater in the middle. The heat collected into pockets and overheated some of the potatoes, causing rot. Now we find that just keeping them in our high tunnel in crates works great. It is moist and warm in the hoophouse. It takes 4-6 days for sweet-as-can-be potatoes. If we harvest too late in the season, and our hoophouse is not so warm, we may need to reconsider our curing location.

I think for a small harvest, a small pantry with a space heater and a bucket of water might do the trick. Monitor the temperature and humidity, though, so you don’t overdo it. If your temps aren’t high enough, it will probably still work but will take longer.

Curing has another benefit, beyond sweetening. It cures the cuts and nicks in the skin of the potatoes so that they keep well. So make sure that you snap apart bunches of potatoes and snap off dangling roots before the curing process, so that these fresh cuts will cure. Even sliced ones cure their cut ends and keep pretty well, but we separate these out just in case.

For best storage, leave sweet potatoes unwashed. Once they are washed, their shelf life is limited.

My three favorite simple sweet potato recipes:

Baked Sweet Potatoes - Scrub sweet potatoes and spike a couple holes in them with a knife. Bake at 350 degrees until soft through the middle. Add butter. Eat the skins too, they are very nutritious!

Sweet Potato Fries - Slice sweet potatoes into French fry strips, toss in a bowl with spices and just a little olive oil (just to coat), bake on a cookie sheet at 410 degrees for about 40 minutes.

Sweet Potato Minestrone Soup - Peel and cut sweet potatoes into cubes and toss them into a pot of minestrone soup, simmer for 20 minutes or so until potatoes are soft. Sweet potatoes add a great unique dimension to any tomato-base minestrone. Here is my favorite sweet potato minestrone recipe, the Moosewood Restaurant’s Winter Minestrone.

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 Mother Earth News Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life at MotherEarthNews.com and Blog.HouseInTheWoods.com, easy to follow from our Facebook page. For more about the farm, go to www.HouseInTheWoods.com.



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anightowl
11/2/2013 9:00:27 PM
I have 8 "milk" crates of sweets curing right now. We are lucky to have a bathroom with an outside entrance (the "pool" bathroom") that doesn't get used much once things cool down. I wash my sweet potatoes right after harvest before they go in the crates because they are covered in heavy clay when harvested. I make 2 stacks in the (just scrubbed clean) shower and put a portable radiant oil heater in there (no blowing hot air). The shower has a glass door not a curtain so it keeps the heat fairly enclosed. The first day or so it's kinda humid (about 65%) just from the sweets surface drying but I put a baking pan of water in front of the heater anyway. After a couple of days I get a couple of towels quite wet and lightly wring so they are not dripping. I drape one over each stack, not touching the sweets and the humidity jumps to about 85. The temp holds at about 80-85. I leave the heater on for a week and then I shut it off, leaving the stacks in the shower. It is an unheated room so the temps drop considerably after that - into the 60's this time of year. After a couple more weeks I take them out and sort the sweets. Some will have soft spots that weren't apparent before and they get tossed. Then I sort by color (I grow purple flesh ones as well) and size and they get put back into the crates for garage storage. I keep anything bigger around than my little finger - little guys are great just washed and cooked with the skin, and they keep just as well as the big ones once they are cured. This method works really well. I STILL have a few in the garage from the 2012 harvest, and they are still good to eat. Last year I had harvested only some of the beds before I hurt my back. When the rest were finally harvested they went directly into the garage without curing since I didn't want to do the heater set up a second time. The uncured ones were stringy, boring, and shriveled after a few months - lesson learned - never store an uncured sweet potato. If you have a bathroom in your house that you can make off limits for a week or so this curing method should work for you (obviously the shower will be unusable for the duration but you don't want anyone using the toilet either - ewww). After the initial cure you can move them to the garage or someplace else that is cool.

hoosiercommonsense
11/1/2013 11:08:30 PM
We had a nice little crop of about three dozen sweet potatoes this year, our first. I was tempted to grow them by an African American friend, whose husband grows five long rows of them every year. He dries them all for a couple of weeks after harvest. Some he saves for later baking, but he cooks most of them and purees the sweets for sweet potato pies that he makes and sells for his church. He grows many crops in his two-lot city garden, including collard greens and crowder peas, and gives most of his produce away. Our vines from a local greenhouse were very robust, with attractive reddish green leaves. We harvested them here in Indiana in mid-October when the vines began to wilt. I did wash them and laid them out on newspaper on the floor of the sunroom where I also do laundry. Yesterday, I wrapped each sweet in newspaper and put them in a box to store them in the extra room that is pretty cool in the winter. Hope to use some for seed potatoes in the spring. The ones we ate before storing were very moist and full of flavor.







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