Although they're with us for most of the year, sweet potatoes seem especially in season these days. As the summer heat gives way to autumn coolness, the sweet potato seems to be at its best as the first frost draws near. Chef Jerry Pellegrino has pointed out, we Marylanders are fortunate that sweet potatoes do so well in our native soil.
As native American vegetables go, the sweet potato is a pioneer. It originated in South American nearly 7,000 years ago, where indigenous people domesticated and modified it. Eventually it spread into North America and became a staple crop. Colonists quickly adapted it, and it has been grown ever since.
Fortunately for us, sweet potatoes love sandy, loamy soil, but can also tolerate heavier clay based soils. Farmers cure and store harvested sweet potatoes for 8 to 10 weeks, allowing the sugars to develop and cuts to heal. Once purchased, sweet potatoes can be stored for weeks on end. They retain their sugary flavor and their considerable nutritional value.
Here are a few recipes Jerry has put together for your cooking pleasure.
Sweet Potato Casserole
4 ½ lbs. sweet potatoes
1 cup sugar
¼ cup milk
½ cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups cornflakes cereal, crushed
¼ cup chopped pecans
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 ½ cups miniature marshmallows
Bake sweet potatoes at 400° for about 1 hour or until tender. Let cool to touch, peel and mash sweet potatoes.
Beat mashed sweet potatoes, sugar, and next 5 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Spoon potato mixture into a greased 11- x 7-inch baking dish.
Combine cornflakes cereal and next 3 ingredients in a small bowl. Sprinkle diagonally over casserole in rows 2 inches apart.
Bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven; let stand 10 minutes. Sprinkle alternate rows with marshmallows; bake 10 additional minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Sweet Potato Pastry
This pastry is the traditional Maryland covering for an Eastern Shore chicken potpie. The recipe is taken from John Shields’ cookbook Chesapeake Bay Cooking.
1 cups mashed sweet potato
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup shortening
2 eggs, beaten
Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl.
Add the mashed sweet pots, shortening and eggs.
Using your fingers, work the ingredients together into a dough.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly flour surface and form into a flat disk.
Roll the dough out to the necessary size.
Sweet Potato Marshmallow Bars
FOR THE CRUST
2 sleeves graham crackers
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
10 tablespoons melted butter
FOR THE FILLING
1 lb sweet potato cooked and mashed
3 tablespoons. granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 ½ cups heavy cream
Make crust: Preheat oven to 350°. Line an 8"-x-8" baking pan with parchment paper. In a food processor, pulse graham crackers, sugar, and salt until fine crumbs. Add melted butter and pulse until texture resembles wet sand. Press into pan and bake until golden, 10 minutes.
Make filling: whisk all filling ingredients until evenly combined with a handheld mixer or stand mixer
Add filling to crust and bake until set (no longer jiggly in the middle), 50 to 60 minutes. Let cool slightly.
Heat broiler. Cover top of bars with mini marshmallows and broil until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Let cool completely before slicing into 2-inch square bars.