News from the Tennessee Valley Food

Doris McGaha's 5-pound sweet potato is compared to one slightly smaller than 1 pound.
Daily photo by Brennen Smith
Doris McGaha's 5-pound sweet potato is compared to one slightly smaller than 1 pound.

Newspaper In Education: Recommended reading
Vine sprouts cream-of the-crop sweet potato

By Patrice Stewart · 340-2446

A school science project will come to a sweet ending at Doris McGaha’s Thanksgiving table.

The Decatur woman helped her daughter clean her elementary classroom last spring and took home a sweet potato vine.

After planting the root in the ground behind her house, she didn’t give it much attention. Despite the drought, it extended about 8 feet along the side of the house, climbed the drainspout and blossomed.

While McGaha watched the vine encircle the gutter and wind around her walkway, “I had no idea there was anything (else) there,” she said.

On a recent autumn day, she checked on the vine and found a 5-pound sweet potato, partly underground. For some reason, the nine sweet potatos growing beside the oversized vegetable were much smaller.

Average sweet potatoes weigh about 1 pound, according to a spokesman in Publix’s produce department in Decatur.

“This one is so big and round that I expect to get two sweet potato pies and a casserole out of it,” she said.

“And they will be special dishes, because they started with a science experiment for third- and fourth-graders.”

McGaha’s daughter, Janis Wells, teaches at Bethel Baptist School in Hartselle. She will get to enjoy the dishes that originated with her students watching a sweet potato sprout in water last spring.

McGaha expected to make her mother’s sweet potato pie recipe and then freeze her pies until Thanksgiving.

“I’ve been making this recipe for years, but I use a ready-to-bake pie shell,” she said. “You can top it with Cool Whip or crushed pecans, but Mom didn’t serve hers with anything on top. Different people have different tastes.”

McGaha also plans to make a traditional sweet potato casserole with brown sugar and pecan topping in a 9x13-inch dish. Those who don’t want that topping can put mini-marshmallows on top and brown them lightly.

“I think this recipe came from one of my mother’s cookbooks, too,” she said. “She was a great cook.”

McGaha has already baked some of the smaller sweet potatoes for dinner and is looking forward to using the 5-pounder for her holiday dishes.

“Canned ones just don’t taste the same,” she said.

She shared these recipes:

Sweet Potato Casserole

3 cups mashed sweet potatoes
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup milk
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup butter
1 cup chopped pecans

Mix sweet potatoes and other ingredients well and pour into greased casserole dish.

Mix topping ingredients and crumble over top of casserole.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes.

Sweet Potato Pie

4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups mashed sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix all ingredients together and pour into a pie shell. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until set.

Top with Cool Whip, or sprinkle crushed pecans on top, depending on your taste.

Good — and good for you

Sweet potatoes are virtually fat-free, cholesterol-free and low in sodium; the medium size has about 116 calories.

They are loaded with Vitamin E, Vitamin B6, potassium, iron, fiber and beta carotene (Vitamin A). They are thought to help in the battle against chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease and are a good food to help diabetics stabilize blood sugar levels.

The Nutrition Action Health Letter rated 58 vegetables by adding up the recommended daily percentages for six nutrients (Vitamins A and C, folate, iron, copper and calcium), plus fiber. Sweet potatoes topped the list with 582 points; the nearest competitor, a raw carrot, came in at 434.

Teaching tools

Spencer the Sweet Potato is a classroom star. Alphabet, science, math and other teaching tools featuring this character can be downloaded from the Web site>

The sweet potato is the official state vegetable of North Carolina, so the state’s elementary students and teachers helped develop this material for classes. /font>

The vitamin-friendly veggie will point the way to new recipes, too.

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