Are 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.