In the midst of October, as seasonal cucurbits like pumpkins and butternut squash are reveling in the limelight, a quiet but just-as-delicious celebrity is waiting below a fine layer of dirt, preparing for their opening act of the year. If you’re well-read on your local and state history, you aren’t a stranger to this sweet and nutritious vegetable: the sweet potato!
The root tuber – world renowned for unique varietals, colors, sizes, and tastes – is the North Carolina state veggie; apt given that NC is also the #1 grower of sweet potatoes in the country. When we at Island Farm bring up our fondness for this tantalizing treat, we are often thinking of the Hayman sweet potato, a variety that any born-and-bred coastal Carolinian will recognize.
Thanks to a temperate climate and sandy soils, the Hayman sweet potato has been a local and state celebrity since its first landing on the coast in 1859. First introduced to the United States by local ship’s captain, Captain Daniel Hayman, the sweet potato grew wildly popular in coastal farming regions, and spread throughout the coastal plains of Maryland and Virginia as a staple crop. To read about how these delicious, candy-like potatoes first came to Roanoke Island, along with their importance to the Etheridge family, our executive director Ladd Bayliss outlines their regional history in The Hayman Sweet Potato.
We at Island Farm wanted to highlight some less familiar recipes that highlight this sweet treat, with harvest just around the corner. Made fresh in our cookhouse, we’re sharing our recipe for sweet potato pie and sweet potato pudding from “What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Southern Cooking,” published in 1881. With few spices needed, the natural syrupy sweetness of the Hayman crafts a light and fluffy dessert that won’t be forgotten. Savvy home chefs can go even further, with popular concoctions like classic mashed potatoes with chicken gravy, creamy shepherd’s pies, or even sweet potatoes folded into buttermilk biscuits.
The pie crust is just as important as the filling when making sweets. Historical cookbooks often included abbreviated recipes of household staples to be paired other recipes throughout the book. When everything is crafted from scratch, it pays to make it well and use everything you have available, creating a dynamic and versatile kitchen environment.
(Left) Sweet potato baked pudding was among a variety of puddings and provision-conscious sweets that could be made using what was available in a colonial kitchen. (Right) A sweet potato pie, made in our cookhouse, with a homemade crust sits in a cast iron Dutch oven, waits to be placed on the hearth to cook.
With the potato harvest soon to come, we are excited to share that you can join in on the Hay-man fever! After harvest, the potatoes are stored to cure for a month, allowing the carbohydrate chains to mature into longer sugar molecules that give Haymans their distinct sugary-sweetness. They’ll be at their sweetest just in time to cook for Thanksgiving.
If you planted one of our Hayman starter kits this spring, the last two weeks of October and first two weeks of November are the perfect time for pulling. Stay tuned with our social media pages on Facebook and Instagram as we’ll have these delicious beauties available to take home for yourselves in our farm shop as well for visitors to try in the cookhouse. Get excited for another special seasonal harvest and make sure to share your Hayman recipes with us this year!