Did you know that there are two kinds of sweet potatoes? Here, in the Mid-Atlantic area, we are accustomed to the orange sweet. But there is another variety, for years considered more adaptable to our climate. The white sweet potato lacks its cousin’s beta-carotene hue. But for those of us lucky enough to taste this heirloom, the white sweet is a favorite for its rich flavor and creamy texture.
For unknown reasons, the white sweet fell out of popularity. Finding one now takes a bit of persistence. But the search is worth the effort. The white sweet potato that you will hold in you hand will have been grown from slips from the best of the previous year’s harvest. Those potatoes will have been sprouted off the potatoes from the year before that. Each year takes the sweet potato farther back in time. Each sweet potato that you touch has been touched by hundreds of generations of families. And each sweet potato that you cultivate will continue forward into time, as long as there are hands willing to keep it safe.
Here at the No Acre Homestead, we were lucky to have four White Hamon Sweets as part of our winter CSA box. They had been handed down as slips, for generations, by families in Pennsylvania.
We ate one.
It was good.
We ate two more.
Then I immediately set up the last White Hamon to grow. I didn’t want to risk forfeiting our chance to take part in preserving this treasure for the future.
Starting a white sweet potato is ridiculously easy (like most things, once you know the guidelines, I’ve found). Skewer the potato with 3 or 4 evenly-spaced toothpicks. Balance it in a wide-mouth jar, pointy side down. That is the root side. The rounder end it the stem end, and you still may see a scar where the white sweet was once connected to the vine. New plants, called ‘slips’ will grow from here.
Fill the jar almost to the top with water. The less chemicals, the better, in both the water and the potato. Then place it in a sunny window. Or as in our case, here in the north-facing Homestead, give it the best daylight you can manage. This actually works. Can you see in the picture above, in the middle of the jar, a faint horizontal line? That is the new root growing, after just one day in the jar.
Life really wants to continue.
From this point on, I’m sharing photos from Food Skills for Self-Sufficiency. I have not advanced my sweet potato to the photogenic stage quite yet.
Just keep the water topped off, and be gentle in handling the mother plant. When the slips are about 5 or 6 inches long, they will easily break off. That’s when you can plant them, about 18 inches apart into loose soil, if your garden is ready. Or into pots until the time is right. Perhaps you’d just prefer to keep them in containers? A secret weapon for front-yard gardeners, sweet potato vines are gorgeous in their own right. The same potato can be used to sprout again, if you would like more plants.
How awesome is that?
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