And we thought we produced a lot of potatoes in Europe? Well, take a look at the east coast of the USA, in the state of North Carolina. This is where our hostess Cindy has her farm and all you can see for miles around are potato fields. Acre after acre after acre. ‘Wow', says Yexi, already jumping up and down, 'that would make a lot of tasty French fries!' Sorry, Yexi. These aren't your standard spuds. The potatoes Cindy grows here are… sweet!
Some call them batates. Others call these super-healthy tubers sweet potatoes. While many Western cultures are real potato-eaters, not many are acquainted with the sweet potato. ‘Even so, this is a major crop in many parts in the world,' Cindy explains. ‘Did you know that the sweet potato is one of the world's seven most commonly grown food crops?’ Goodness gracious, this rather crooked-looking vegetable (because that is what it is) suddenly takes on a whole new dimension in Yexi's mind. OK, it might not win a beauty prize, ‘but just wait until you taste it', Cindy announces enthusiastically.
Cindy isn't the only sweet potato grower in North Carolina: this state produces more sweet potatoes than any other state in America. ‘I'm the second generation on this farm. I fell in love with growing sweet potatoes at a very tender age. Just look at this tiny plant. It may be small now, but it's going to produce a lot of food later: Superfood! We not only grow them here, we also package and provide their transport.’
These sweet potato plants take more than three months to grow. We notice that not much is left to chance: every stage, from planting to harvest, is carefully monitored. ‘We have the latest machinery, software to keep track of the weather, and tractors equipped with GPS. I bet you hadn't expected that, right?’ She shows us one of the machines. ‘These machines classify the potatoes according to length and diameter. This way, our sweet potatoes are sorted into uniform sizes.'
Yes, and then they're neatly cut into pieces when people take them home. ‘At least that's how I like to eat them best', said Cindy. ‘Simply diced and then fried in coconut oil. A sprinkling of sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and that's all there is to it. Here, try some!' Hmm… not pommes frites but pommes sweet!
Actually, sweet potatoes are a very versatile vegetable. They're great for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They make a good accompaniment to meats and fish. They brighten up casseroles, soups and salads. Use them as an ingredient in breads, pies or cakes. Experiment with herbs. The sky's the limit. And even if it's not a standard potato, its storage requirements are about the same. The best place to store the sweet potato is in a cool dry place.
And then there’s the high point of our visit: a ride on the tractor across the recently planted fields. 'Yippy aye yay!' Yexi shouts. ‘Hey, it's been a while since we had any cowboys in North Carolina', Cindy smiles.
A delicious, typically American recipe for a side dish often served at a Thanksgiving dinner. It's a baked sweet potato purée from the oven made with sugar, butter, milk and eggs and topped with pecans. Feel free to adjust this recipe to your own taste – just like a real American southern chef would do.