The one thing I don’t like about sweet potatoes is that they taste better than butternuts. When I reach for a butternut to bake for dinner, my arm involuntarily dips in the adjacent basket and it’s sweet potatoes for dinner again. I would say I hate when that happens, but it’s not true.
How could I forget the day I met her, the Golden Nugget? After collecting scion wood of old fashioned apple trees at Coin and Chelsea’s farm on the other side of Macon County, I was invited into their home.
“I’ve got something for you,” Coin said, and went upstairs. Coming down from the attic with a half bushel basket, I can’t say it was love at first sight. It was simply a basket of dirty sweet potatoes.
“Lay them in a bed in early April, get them out in late May, dig them before frost, put them in the attic and don’t move them again” were the instructions that came with that basket. The last bit of advice was amended with the explanation that “the milk inside doesn’t like to be shaken up or else they won’t keep”, and that his grandfather was growing this same strain every year for over 75 years.
This was 40 years ago, and love certainly grows. Year after year they’re bedded down, set out and hoed, and eventually stored away. The less we move them the better they keep. I’ve trialled a dozen other varieties and nothing comes close to the flavor of her. Beauregard produces more, but they taste watery to me. I only have eyes for the Golden Nugget.
Horse manure is laid in a trench to ferment and heat up the soil that is put on top. Sweet potatoes are buried and sprout up in a month. A few weeks later the slips are pulled and planted 16” apart on ridges made with the cultivator hillers. We hoe them once or twice, and pull weeds in mid-season.
In the fall they are mown and the vines are pulled to one side. The potato plow slowly lifts them out of the ground, and what a beautiful sight it is to see the rows of roots popping out of the ground. we let them dry a bit in the sun before basking up the good ones and hauling them to a barn loft.
Sweet potatoes like warmth, and when first dug aren’t as sweet as they’ll be after a few weeks at 80 degrees or so. An attic perfect because it is warm and dry, but my attic won’t quite fit 400 bushels. Yet you can bet I’ll have a few dozen bushels in my upstairs bedroom.
Sometimes a couple will be curled and wrapped around each other. Baked and buttered, there is not much better. I still like butternuts, but I love my golden nugget.