November 23, 2013

Sweet Success

Sweet potatoes are one of my go-to crops. They are low maintenance, mostly insect pest free, one-time harvest and good winter keepers with no labor or energy intensive preservation methods. Their vegetation is like crack to deer, however, but since we have a fenced garden, that's not an issue. Unfortunately, their tubers are like crack to voles, which can easily get through garden fences and tunnel in to munch away on the sweet potato smorgasboard. They mostly prefer to eat the bottom two-thirds of the biggest sweet potatoes. This makes for a lot of disappoinment when harvesting as you first uncover the tops of what looks to be a nice, large sweet potato, only to pull it from the ground and find it mostly gnawed away. Argh!

But, I digress. This is not a post about sweet potato disappointment. This is a post about sweet potato success. Yes, the voles devoured ninety percent of the twenty five percent of my overall sweet potato crop that was decent sized (is that math making your head spin?). What I was left with was about three 5-gallon buckets worth of long, skinny sweet potatoes. It was hard to decide where to draw the line between a thick root and a thin sweet potato. This photo doesn't really help much without something for comparison, but most of these potatoes are as thick as my thumb and as long as my hand. The largest ones in the photo are about half the size of my wrist, and if you know me, you know I have tiny wrists!

So, how to utilize this harvest, that is the question. Joe's favorite way to eat sweet potatoes is baked whole, in their skins. That works beautifully with large sweet potatoes, but it turns these guys into little sticks of dried out sweet potato dust in a charcoaled skin. Peeling them would require enough "Elmo's World" episodes to rot Eden's brain. (Eden watches one "Elmo's World" or two "Blue's Clues" episodes each afternoon and all food prep and dish clean-up must be completed in that time span, approximately 45 mins. I consider the trade-off between mind-numbing brain food and body nourishing homemade, homegrown dinner to be more than worth it.) The key to cooking these potatoes is the solar oven. I must watch the weather and choose a good sunny day, but after scrubbing them down and chopping them into chunks, the sun cooks them to perfection, never dried out or burnt, and all in their own juices.

Next, I run them through the ricer (aka food mill) to separate out the skins. This sounds easy, but it's a lot more of a workout then making applesauce. But, still much faster and easier than peeling them before cooking.

The result is smooth, thick sweet potato puree, perfect for sweet potato pies! I was going to take a picture of the pies, but I was too busy eating them. I'm not much of a recipe follower, but our general concoction goes something like this:

Sweet potato puree
One can of coconut milk
One block of silken tofu
Some molasses
A smidgen of some other sweetener (honey, stevia, succanant)

Blend all ingredients together until smooth, spoon the thick mixture into two (or three) homemade pie crusts and bake until the crusts are cooked and the filling is browned. The filling will be "set" once completely cooled. We usually dig in as soon as they come out of the oven, so our first slice is more like sweet potato pudding on crust. We also make them only mildly sweet and eat them for dessert, breakfast, snack, whenever!

The tofu makes a perfect egg replacer for this kind of pie. Sweet potato pie season is also chickens not laying much of anything season. I (mostly) refuse to buy eggs from the grocery store, so I prefer to save our few precious winter eggs for eating with breakfast or a frittata rather than hidden in baked goods. It also, depending on how you make the pie crusts, makes a perfect vegan treat to share with your mother-in-law, if she's lucky!

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