Monday, November 03, 2008

Farm Bulletin: Not Just a Tuber...A Dance, Too!

After a break from their market duties, Carol and Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm return to the Hillsdale Farmers' Market this Sunday (11/9) with the fruits (and the beans, potatoes and corn) of their labor from 10 am till 2 pm. Anthony shares his notes on a few of their offerings, with a worthwhile pointer on storing sweet potatoes.


Neither "sweet potato" nor "yam" are botanically correct monikers for these tubers in the morning glory family. Yams are big, starchy roots of the genus Dioscorea, and are of dubious culinary and nutritional merit. And the potato, Solanum tuberosum, is in an entirely different family. So please don't give us any guff over the name we choose to use. The Spanish camote got your attention. At the market, they will be called yams because it is easier to write on the board, and who can forget Fred Astaire teaching "The Yam" (above) in "Carefree." Otherwise, sweet potato will work just fine.

After treating sweet potatoes with disdain, we fell hard for them after a colleague of [daughter] Caroline gave her a bunch of tubers very different from those we had seen in the store. They had an amazing range of shapes, colors, and flavors. We have tried almost 40 different varieties from the collection of Glenn and Linda Drowns of the Sand Hill Preservation Center. There are about a dozen that will work in the soils and climate of the Willamette Valley. Old Henry, Violetta, Amish Porto Rico, Caragold and Purple are good varieties. Those adapted to the sandy soils of the south have a hard time pushing though our silty clay loams. For most, our growing season is simply too short.

Native to the tropics with a distinct wet and dry season, Ipomea batatas at the 45th parallel requires a good deal of pampering. The soil has to be warm before the slips are planted out, and the tubers must be dug before the soil temperature drops below 55 degrees. After digging, the tubers must be cured in a dry place at about 85 degrees for ten days and then stored at 65 degrees. Chilled, they lose their flavor, and become starchy and tough. Because Glenn and Linda run a preservation center as opposed to a seed house, the slips are available in limited quantities. We have to save the best tubers and generate our own slips in the spring. You can do this with our tubers as well.

Once again, do not store the sweet potatoes, yams or camotes in a cold place or the refrigerator, or you will be doomed to bitter disappointment. Cold temperatures kill the tubers. Room temperature is ideal.

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