Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I like the color purple.
Folks who know the Carolina Foodie often see her wearing purple.
So when I saw PURPLE SWEET POTATOES at the State Farmers Market in Raleigh, I had to have them. I wanted to EAT PURPLE!
I had heard that NCSU had been working in their micro-propagation program with the Saura Pride Co in Stokes County, trying to rid a purple sweet potato of any possible viruses. The fact that they were now for sale meant success.

That's its official name, the Stokes Purple, and it has an interesting story.
After retiring from a state job, Mike Sizemore of Walnut Cove decided to farm some land he owned. Another farmer who wanted to retire approached him about selling his equipment and sweet potato business. As an added bonus, the elderly farmer threw in some slips of a purple sweet potato, an Asian variety, that he thought had potential. Sizemore grew some and was impressed. So he took it to NCSU to get a "clean" plant, one free of viruses that often ravage a crop.
Nearby, Hanging Rock State Park hovers over fertile fields that are perfect for growing potatoes. They don't like being wet, so the soil needs to drain well. But it can't be too sandy, or else the nutrients won't be there.
Now, other former tobacco farmers in Stokes County have a replacement crop, and can use most of the same farming equipment as they did for planting and growing tobacco. They sell them for cash to Saura Pride Company, (named for the Saura, the Native Americans who once inhabited the fertile soil of this northwestern Piedmont area), which distributes them to markets.
You'll find sweet potatoes overflowing market bins now. After being dug up in the fall, they spend several days "curing" at a steady warm temperature inside a warehouse. In the old days, folks laid them to "cure" in the sun, before packing them into root cellars or even "potato hills," holes dug in the earth where the potatoes were mounded in a heap, then covered with soil. Cured sweet potatoes will store much better than those in their "green" state.

Remember that catchy, bouncy song by Sheb Wooley that made the charts back in 1958, also sung by Jimmy Buffet? It's been stuck in my head ever since I sliced into that Stokes Purple.
"I said Mr Purple People Eater, what's your line?
He said eating purple people, and it sure is fine
But that's not the reason that I came to land
I wanna get a job in a rock 'n roll band."
Maybe we should be eating more purple.
Turns out that the chemical responsible for the purple color, anthocyanin, can reduce cardiovascular disease and improve vision. The purple variety has more antioxidants, with 8.5 times more Vitamin E than in an orange sweet potato, and more Vitamin C. And those antioxidants get stronger when the sweet potato is cooked.

Under the peel, the Stokes Purple was still purple. The cutting board turned purple. My hands were purple. Under my nails, it was purple.
I diced it, along with another new NC variety, the bright orange Hatteras, then stirred in olive oil until they glistened, sprinkled it with sea salt and herbes de Provence, and set it into a 375 oven for about 30 minutes until barely tender.
And guess what?
The Stokes Purple was still purple after being cooked.
Now, that sure is fine. And it tasted better than fine, too. I love sweet potatoes!
Note: our teeth did NOT turn purple. With a bit of scrubbing and filing, the stains came off my hands and nails.


Woodduck said...

Interesting, thanks, I'd never heard of the two new varieties.

Anonymous said...

hi Carolina, I remember reading something like "former tobacco farmers in Stokes County have a replacement crop." Do they convert from tobacco farming to purple sweet potatoes forever, or once every few years? and why?