Whether you live in the North or South, in the city or the country, your traditional Thanksgiving dinner almost certainly includes sweet potatoes alongside the turkey and stuffing. Now imagine how much you’ll enjoy serving homegrown sweet potatoes next year. They’re a classic Southern crop, but you can grow them in cooler parts of the country, too. And they keep throughout the winter, so you can eat them after the holidays are over. Bob Perry, a gardener and executive chef for the Kentucky Department of Parks, roasts, mashes, bakes, and fries these delicacies year-round. Read on to discover the secrets to growing sweet potatoes wherever you live.
A Super Food
Chef Perry loves the taste of sweet potatoes, but he also understands the other benefits of a vegetable that contains more beta-carotene than raw carrots, not to mention ample amounts of vitamins E and C. When it comes to these tuberous roots, it’s no mere figure of speech to say that their beauty really is more than skin deep. Peeling away their humble exterior reveals their true colors: orange, yellow, white, and even purple. These bright colors aren’t just pretty; they signal the presence of healthful antioxidants, which protect the body from cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Sweet potatoes are high in vitamins and potassium and low in calories and sodium, says Beth Reames, Ph.D., a registered dietitian at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center. They are a high-quality complex carbohydrate, have a moderate glycemic index (even though they are naturally sweet), and are high in fiber and low in fat—no wonder chef and author Dana Jacobi included them in her new 12 Best Foods Cookbook (Rodale, 2005).
By the way, sweet potato skins also contain vitamin C and antioxidants. Bob Perry knows that roasting or baking the vegetables with their skins on preserves a maximum amount of nutrients, and he says that kids (like his two boys) love to eat them prepared this way.