The sweet potato [Ipomoea batas (L.) Lam.] is a tuber vegetable plant that originated and was domesticated millennia ago somewhere between the Yucatan Peninsula of modern Mexico and Orinoco River in modern Venezuela. Our modern sweet potato is a member of the morning glory family Convolvulaceae family and possibly only distantly related to the potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) of the nightshade Solanaceae family. Sweet potato is purported to be the only globally important food crop among the Convolvulaceae. A raw, unpeeled sweet potato is rich in antioxidants and fiber. The sweet potato is not grown from seed, and does not tolerate frost. The sweet potato plant does not tolerate water-logged soils, and does best in sandy soil. University of Missouri Extension suggests home gardeners plant the tuber slips in raised beds or a black plastic mulch pieces and then cover with an organic mulch such as straw or hay.
Sweet potatoes have become a prominent component of the US “Southern” identity in the past couple of decades. The tuber was documented as being grown in Virginia in 1648. Sweet potato was documented as being grown by the local Native American residents when the first Acadian Canadians, now known as Cajuns, arrived in Louisiana in the mid-1700s. The sweet potato probably was not present at the Massachusetts Pilgrim’s Thanksgiving celebrations unless the Native American neighbors brought them. Yams (Dioscorea species) originated in Africa, and probably were also unknown to the Pilgrims and their rocky New England soils.
Recently Southern US themed women magazines have celebrated preparing sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and everyday meals. Fried sweet potato fries and baked chips are popular sandwich side dishes. Mashed and baked sweet potatoes are more common at restaurants. What modern sweet potato enthusiasts conveniently forget is that sweet potatoes were the food of poor people, both black and white and all those colored folks in between. If one had any money one did not eat sweet potatoes. Once people left poverty and the South behind it is my understanding no one wanted to even smell sweet potatoes except when the “traditional” American holiday dinner required it.
We found ourselves with an abundance of purchased sweet potatoes several months ago. When cured correctly, sweet potatoes last up to 10 months if dry and stored at 55 to 60°F (12.7 to 15.5 °C) at high humidity. These potatoes that we acquired were not cured well and needed used as soon as possible. One can only eat so many of variations of mashed sweet potatoes.
The sweet potato bread recipe called for a pound of sweet potatoes. I weighed out 16 ¾ oz raw sweet potatoes. The recipe called for piercing the sweet potatoes several times then baking on a baking sheet, but I did not do that. I peeled and then wrapped the potatoes in aluminum foil and baked at 400 °F (204.4 °C) for an hour. I pureed the baked sweet potatoes and scooped out 1 ⅓ cup of sweet potatoes into a mixing bowl and allowed the purée to cool so not to cook the eggs. I used half-and-half and not whole milk. A quarter cup (2 oz) half-and-half is easier to obtain than 2 oz whole milk. Use a tasteless oil such as canola so that the sweetness of the potatoes comes through. The dry ingredients were added as instructed in batches to the wet ingredients. It is very important to use cake flour. Cake flour is milled finer than all-purpose flour. Cake flour produces a more delicate crumb and texture than all-purpose flour which is more desirable in a heavier batter quick bread. It is important to gently stir until all the dry ingredients are just moist. The batter does not photograph well.
I poured the batter into a greased loaf pan. The oven was set to 325 °F (162.7 °C). As directed I turned the loaf 180° around 30 minutes into the baking time. The recipe says allow 60 to 75 minutes to bake. It took 70 minutes baking for the toothpick to come out clean.
After the bread (cake) had cooled it slipped out of the loaf pan easily. I topped the loaf with 3 tablespoons dulce de leche. Amazing stuff that dulce de leche. I sprinkled about ⅛ teaspoon salt over the caramel topping. I could not find any Maldon type salt except in a King Arthur Flour catalog, so I used a medium ground sea salt. I toasted ⅓ cup chopped pecans, the recipe called for ¼ cup, in a 325 °F (162.7 °C) oven for about eight minutes stirring frequently for even toasting, and pressed the pecan pieces into the caramel. I could not find Aleppo pepper flakes outside of a catalog or the internet. I am not sure what 1 ½ teaspoon pepper flakes would add.
The sweet potato bread was cake-like and we ate it as a dessert. It was amazing. This bread/cake was very moist and maintained its moistness over a couple of days. I have made this recipe several times over the past couple months. This is a type of bread/cake that you would spend $4.5 for a slice in a nice coffee shop. Did I mention the break/cake is amazing?
The recipe can be found at: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/sweet-potato-bread-with-caramel-and-aleppo-spiced-pecans-51249830
“Sweet Potato” oil on canvas panel, 10X8, by Noah Verrier featured on Verrier’s Daily Paintings blog on 17 June 2009 http://noahverrier.blogspot.com/2009/06/sweet-potato-oil-on-canvas-panel-10×8.html
If you want to know more about the harvest of US sweet potatoes, here is a report from NPR. “Behind Your Holiday Sweet Potato Dish, Hard Work In The Fields” by Dan Charles. Updated January 11, 201612:12 PM ET, Published November 24, 20155:32 AM ET http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/11/24/457203127/behind-your-holiday-sweet-potato-dish-hard-work-in-the-fields
If you want to grow your own sweet potatoes, the University of Missouri Extension has a nice write-up. http://extension.missouri.edu/publications/DisplayPub.aspx?P=G6368