Tuesday, September 21, 2010

How to Keep a Sweet Potato for Winter Storage

Sweet potatoes are a funny crop, really a southern plant, and not actually a potato at all. Nor are they related to "yams" grown commonly in tropical countries.

They can be harvested all the way until the vines are frost-killed. However, around here, mice will take too large a toll if the sweet potatoes are left in the ground that long. Also, curing sweet potatoes is easier while we still have some warm days.

After early harvest, if eaten immediately, some varieties of sweet potatoes will be starchy and not sweet. So we usually give them at least a few days before using them. This allows some of the starch to convert to sugars, for the familiar sweet flavor.

Sweet potatoes will usually keep for a month or two with no curing, just kept in a cool/dark place. However, if you want to enjoy them all the way through winter and spring, they must be "cured." When a sweet potato spoils, it generally does so through the nicks in the skin, and where the plant stem broke off. These areas need to form a hard plug or scab, to protect the stored sweet potato from spoilage. To do this, the sweet potatoes should ideally be kept at 85-90 degrees in a well-ventilated spot for 10-15 days. This is not exact, but the more warmth they get during this curing time, the better.

After curing, store sweet potatoes in a cool place (55 degrees or so) but not too dry (75-80% humidity) so they don't shrivel too badly. A "root cellar" is ideal!

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