National leaders in sweet potato production, in descending order: North Carolina, Louisiana, California, Mississippi, Texas. Government record keepers stop ranking states at New Jersey, at No. 7. In 2012, the Garden State grew about $50,000 worth of sweet potatoes. That’s small potatoes in Big Ag.
Colorado? It’s got to be way, way down there.
But we know at least three places where you can find Colorado sweet potatoes: In Black Cat Bistro, Bramble & Hare restaurant, and the Black Cat Farm farmstand at the Boulder County Farmers’ Market in downtown Boulder on Saturdays.
Visit the restaurants now, or swing by the Farmers Market before it shuts down towards the end of November, and you can try Centennial State sweet potatoes so pleasing that you might start making plans to grow your own next season.
Jill’s Dad Frank Inspiration for Sweet Potatoes
Our sweet potato inspiration comes from Jill’s father, Frank Verde, who grew up in Baltimore. His Italian grandmother routinely treated him with roasted fingerling sweet potatoes after school. The snacks are among his favorite food memories.
“Not only were they delicious, they also were great hand warmers,” says Frank. “My grandmother would keep them hot for us, and when we got home the first thing we did was hold them for awhile. And then we would eat them all. Delicious.”
Eric understood that growing sweet potatoes as big around as softballs was unlikely in Colorado. Sweet potatoes like lots of heat, for long periods of time. Colorado doesn’t offer that. But fingerling sweet potatoes? Maybe.
So we gave them a shot a few years ago. The vines spread wildly. The leaves mounded. We started pulling them in July, and the tuberous roots were awfully puny. But by late August, we began encountering sweet potatoes big enough to roast and serve — fingerlings. And by the end of the season, the sweet potatoes were substantial.
Now, they are part of the farm.
The Skinny on Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are members of the morning glory family, which is entirely separate from the Solanaceae (aka, nightshade) family that encompasses regular potatoes, as well as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.Little-known fact: Sweet potatoes are tuberous roots, and potatoes are essentially swollen stems.
The greens are glorious. They have a texture and taste similar to spinach, and each plant produces an abundance of greens. They LOVE hot weather, which is not surprising given their Sub-Saharan African origin. Kale dislikes heat. When we have sweltering summers, like this one, the kale sputters and complains. The sweet potato greens swoon. This works out well for the restaurants.
Sweet Potato Preparations in the Restaurants + Tips for Home Cooking
We work to showcase the sweet potato flavor in the restaurants. One preparation mirrors the style that Frank grew up eating in Baltimore. We blanch them in salty water. Drain the water. Toss them into a cast-iron skillet that contains hefty glugs of olive oil. And there they sit, over low to medium heat, crisping in the olive oil. Once the bottoms are caramelized, we serve them showered in salt. One side is crispy, the other is buttery. They are perfect.
We also like making aiolis or Romesco sauces, spiked with chipotle or some other smoked pepper, as sweet potato accompaniments. Eric calls the combination “otherworldly.”
Finally, we are big on sweet potato latkes. The tubers are blanched, grated, patted into discs and fried in oil. Spectacular.
More? Sure. We season lentil or chickpea flour with ground spices like coriander, cumin and mustard seeds. Then we add soda water to the flour until it is something like pancake batter. Grated sweet potato discs get dipped in batter and fried. Boom — Indian pakora. You won’t be able to stop eating them.
We think it’s time to try Boulder County sweet potatoes. Look for them, as well as loads more, at the Farmers’ Market this weekend as well as the restaurants.
Saturday 8am – 2pm
Weekly Harvest 9/21/2019
Sweet potatoes · Onions: red and yellow · Arugula · Mizuna · Chinese collard greens · Squash: Delicatta, Hokkaido, Spaghetti · Pickling cucumbers · Corn · Eggplant · Peppers · Tomatoes · Purple potatoes · Golden potatoes · Beets · Basil: Sweet and Purple · Summer squash · Parsnips · Red kale · Mixed salad greens · Radish greens · Osaka purple · Tatsoi · Spicy mustard greens · Celery · Carrots
Sonoran White wheat flour · Khorasan wheat flour · Swiss rye wheat flour
Black Cat Heritage-Breed Pork & Lamb Raised on Organic Pastures
All cuts of lamb · All cuts of pork · Pork skin · Pork jowls