While we spend Christmas curled up by the tree, Nick Van Berlo expects to spend the day in his Norfolk County shed packing sweet potatoes.
“We’ve got an awful lot of potatoes to get through,” says Van Berlo, a second-generation farmer and winner of the Ontario Produce Marketing Association’s 2016 Fresh Award, whose sweet crop graced 7.5 million tables at Thanksgiving alone.
Christmas is prime time for orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, prepared every which way from appetizers to dessert. Though he’s increased his acreage to more than 1,000 acres, Van Berlo says he and other local farmers can’t meet the growing demand for their roots, which is filled by Southern states such as North Carolina.
Ontario’s hot, dry summer led to his best quality crop in a decade. He hopes to supply the market until June, packing his roots loose and in bags under the Berlo’s Best brand, and credits Sobeys with supporting his dream.
“Ten years ago nobody knew what a sweet potato was,” he says. “Now it’s a staple item.”
A true yam is a starchy, rough-skinned root from tropical South America, Africa and the Caribbean. Sweet potatoes, from a different family, were being grown by Native Americans when Columbus arrived in 1492. So why do some supermarkets call them yams? The confusion began in the 1930s when a Louisiana State University scientist named his new, improved orange sweet potato a Louisiana yam. The name stuck.
Thanks to its deep orange colour, one medium sweet potato provides twice the recommended daily amount of Vitamin A. They’re fat free, an excellent source of Vitamin C and a good source of fibre and potassium, with just 103 calories per root. Maximize nutrition by baking with the skin on.
Buy & Store
- Depending on the variety, sweet potatoes may be white, orange or purple inside.
- Choose firm roots with no cracks, bruises or soft spots.
- Some recommend buying small to medium-sized roots for best flavour.
- Store in a cool, dark, well-ventilated space for several weeks, NOT in the fridge.
Boil: Peel and cut in chunks. Boil until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and mash with a little butter or orange juice. Sprinkle with cinnamon or nutmeg.
Microwave: Pierce skin in several places and bake whole potato on High 5 to 9 minutes, rotating at half-time. Cut in half and drizzle with maple syrup.
Grill. Peel and cut into rounds or lengthwise into slices 1/2-inch (1 cm) thick. Grill until brown, about 4 minutes per side. Drizzle with lime juice.
Raw: Grate raw into slaw and salads or spiralize into “noodles” to eat raw or cooked.
Sauté: Slice or dice peeled sweet potato, toss in oil and sauté 10 minutes or until tender.
Steam: Steam 1-inch (2.5 cm) slices over simmering water.
Fries: Wash and scrub large unpeeled sweet potatoes. Cut lengthwise into fries or wedges. Season with salt, pepper and paprika. Toss with 1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil. Arrange in a single layer on baking sheet and bake at 400F (200C) about 35 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden.
- Substitute boiled, mashed sweet potato for puréed pumpkin in pies, squares and quick breads.
- Add to a smoothie with vanilla yogurt, orange juice and a dash of vanilla extract.
- Substitute for regular spuds in potato salad and add rounds to scalloped potatoes.
- Make silky soups and add to stews.
Sweet Potato Pecan Bread Pudding
Ruby WatchCo chef/owner Lynn Crawford created this festive breakfast or brunch dish for Egg Farmers of Canada. Make ahead in individual ramekins or one big casserole and pop in the oven an hour before serving. Top with decadent bourbon caramel sauce.
2 sweet potatoes (1.5 lb/750 g), peeled, cooked and mashed
2 tsp butter
1 day-old loaf Challah bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups/1.5 L)
6 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 tbsp molasses
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch of allspice
Pinch of salt
2 cups half and half (10%) cream
2 cups milk
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup pecan halves
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp Bourbon
Butter a 13 x 9 inch (23×33 cm) baking dish and place bread cubes in the dish. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, maple syrup, molasses, vanilla, spices, salt, cream and milk. Add mashed sweet potatoes and blend thoroughly. Pour egg mixture over bread and press down with the back of a spoon to ensure all cubes are soaked in custard. Make up to a day ahead.
For topping, combine brown sugar, butter and pecans together in a small bowl. Sprinkle over pudding. Bake in 350F oven about 45 minutes until browned and custard is set, rotating pan at half-time for even browning.
For sauce, melt butter, add pecans and cook, stirring, 2 to 3 minutes until fragrant. Stir in brown sugar until it melts. Add cream and salt, blending until smooth. Remove from heat and add vanilla and Bourbon. Refrigerate up to 2 days, reheat and spoon over warm pudding.
Makes 10 to 12 servings.