Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Sweet Potatoes 2019

By Chef/Farmer Andrea

This year's sweet potato vines in July.

We’re excited to be delivering the first of several weeks of sweet potatoes!  Sweet potatoes are an important crop for us, not so much because they are a big money maker, but more so because they are an important part of our diet and we love to eat them!  Richard may or may not admit this, but I think he also likes the challenge of growing a tropical plant in the upper Midwest!  As with every crop, you just never know what kind of a year you will get.  Up until 2016, we had always had a sweet potato crop to harvest.  Some of you may remember fall 2016 when we had a devastating 100 year flood at the end of September.  Sadly, our sweet potatoes were planted in field #65, right next to the river.  The rain started to fall, the river started to rise and quickly became a raging, angry beast that came out of its banks and flooded our beautiful sweet potato field.  It was heartbreaking as we were only one week away from harvest.  Even now it’s hard to write about that year when we lost the entire sweet potato crop.  We all survived with plenty to eat, but a winter without sweet potatoes just isn’t right!  We came back in 2017 and had a pretty good year.  The crop wasn’t perfect, but we were just thankful to have something to harvest!  In 2018, Richard and the crew were determined to have a knock-out sweet potato year.  Their determination paid off and we had the best sweet potato crop in the history of Harmony Valley Farm!  We harvested over 30,000 pounds of sweet potatoes and they were gorgeous!  It’s hard to match a crop like that, but we set out to do so again this year.

Digging sweet potatoes.
We planted this year’s crop on June 1.  We get our sweet potato plants from two organic producers in North Carolina.  Due to a cold, wet start to their season, they shipped our plants about 10 days later than we had planned.  Nonetheless, the field was ready before we received them so we were ready to start planting them the same day they arrived!  Most of the plants survived the transplanting process and took off.  Overall, the crop looked to have a good start.  We fertilized and delivered nutrients as needed, but there were periods of time when the soil was wet and saturated, despite the fact that we grow on beds covered with plastic mulch for heat gain.  I mentioned earlier that sweet potatoes are tropical plants.  They thrive in hot, dry climates.  In wet conditions, you often end up with scraggly roots and the plants don’t set potatoes as they should.  This year’s yields came in at about 50% of last year with an estimated 17,000 pounds.  The potatoes are nice and tasty, we just didn’t find as many potatoes per plant as in previous years.  Our two main varieties this year are Covington and Burgundy.  Both are orange fleshed sweet potatoes known to be sweet and flavorful.  We also grew Murasaki sweet potatoes, a white fleshed Japanese variety.  We haven’t had much luck with these potatoes in past attempts.  They have never yielded very well and the potatoes are always very small and skinny.  I can’t help myself though, it’s a delicious potato with sweet, moist white flesh.  Somehow I managed to convince Richard we needed to try them yet again this year.  Surprisingly, the yield was significantly improved and we harvested the largest potatoes we’ve ever seen on this variety!  Evidently this variety actually thrives with a little more moisture.  Despite a disappointing yield, we did make some important observations that will help us raise future crops and we’re always happy to have something instead of nothing.  We do plan to deliver sweet potatoes in most, if not all, of the remaining CSA boxes and we’ve allocated some to offer as a Produce Plus offering before Thanksgiving as well as part of our End of Season special offering.  We also partner with the Lakewinds Food Co-Ops in Minneapolis and they’ve done an outstanding job selling and promoting our sweet potatoes in their stores in previous years.  This year we’ll send a few their way, but not nearly what we or they had hoped for.  Because we knew our yields would be low this year, we saved every little potato when we were harvesting.  Typically when the potatoes are more abundant we would leave some of the little guys in the field. But this year, every potato is precious to us.  So we have some potatoes we’re sorting out as “Baby Bakers.”   Evidently we’re not the only ones in the country who have small, fat potatoes.  Within the last year other companies have started selling these baby sweet potatoes as well. They are completely usable potatoes, just much smaller than the historical industry standard.  You’ll likely receive some in your box before the end of the year.  They are the cutest little things and are actually easier in many ways to work with compared to some of the bigger potatoes.

Freshly washed sweet potatoes.
After we harvest the sweet potatoes, we bring them into our nursey greenhouse in wooden crates.  We stack them up and once they are all harvested, we start the curing process.  When sweet potatoes first come out of the field they are not very sweet and flavorful.  The skins are also very tender and delicate, so we have to handle them very careful with gloved hands to minimize any surface damage to the skin.  We hold them at a temperature of 85-95°F with humidity of 90-95% for 7-10 days.  During this time the greenhouse feels like a sauna!  This process helps to set the skins so they’ll last longer in storage. It also develops the starches into sugars, making them a truly sweet potato!

Sweet potatoes are best stored at a temperature of 55-65°F.  Do not store them in your refrigerator or at temperatures less than 50°F or they’ll get chill injury.  Store them in a cool, dry location or on your countertop until you’re ready to use them.

There are so many things you can make with sweet potatoes ranging from sweet potato casserole to sandwiches, fries, soup, cakes, pies, donuts, salad and more!  Of course, one of the simplest things you can do is just bake them and eat them right out of their skin with a touch of butter!

Sweet Potato Kimchi Pancakes

photo by John Kernick for

Serves 8 

1 pound sweet potatoes 
1 cup packed kimchi (approximately 7 ounces), chopped finely 
1 ½ tsp finely chopped garlic 
1 to 2 Tbsp chopped fresh Serrano chiles (The amount of chile pepper you use may be adjusted to your liking and will also be dependent upon the heat of the kimchi. If you do not have fresh chiles available, you may also substitute pickled jalapeño or a pinch of dried red pepper flakes.) 
1 cup thinly sliced onions 
1 large egg, lightly beaten 
1 tsp kosher salt 
¾ cup all-purpose flour 
About ½ cup vegetable oil
  1. Peel sweet potatoes and julienne (very small strips) using a mandolin or the shredding attachment on a food processor. You should have about 6 cups of sweet potatoes once they are cut. 
  2. Stir the potato together with the remaining ingredients except for the oil. Let the mixture stand at room temperature until wilted and moist, about 5 minutes, then stir again. 
  3. Heat 2 Tbsp of the oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Using 2 serving spoons, scoop up some of the sweet potato mixture in one spoon and use the other one to compress the mixture and form a rough patty. Care- fully slide the patty off the spoon and into the hot pan. Repeat the process to add another 4 or 5 pancakes to the pan. You will need to do several batches to cook all the pancakes. 
  4. Cook until golden brown, 1 ½ to 2 minutes, then flip the pancake. Add a little more oil if necessary. Cook until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels or to a baking rack on a sheet pan. Hold the pancakes in a warm oven     (set at 150-200°F) until you are finished frying the pancakes and are ready to serve them. Add oil to skillet between batches as needed. 
  5. Serve warm with a dipping sauce of your choice. The original recipe was accompanied by a soy-vinegar dipping sauce, but I prefer to serve them with a dollop of sour cream or sour cream mixed with lime juice and cilantro. 
  6. If you have extra pancakes leftover, they can easily be cooled and frozen. When you are ready to use them, reheat the unthawed pancakes in a 375°F oven.
This recipe is a long time favorite!  It was originally published in Gourmet magazine and can be found at

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