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What is the first thing that comes to mind when sweet potatoes are in season? No doubt it’s the traditional sweet potato casserole enjoyed by so many families throughout the South and beyond during these fall months. There is a lot more to sweet potatoes, though, than the familiar combination with toasted marshmallows.

A common myth is that the darker, red/orange sweet potatoes found in our markets are yams. Surprisingly, most all of the root vegetables sold in North America as yams, are sweet potatoes. Yams, a totally different root vegetable, are rarely grown or sold in the USA. So it can be said that a sweet potato by any other name (yam) is still a sweet potato.

The health benefits of sweet potatoes are impressive. Sweet potatoes are high in fiber, very filling and have a delicious sweet taste. They are rich in an antioxidant called beta-carotene, which is very effective at raising blood levels of vitamin A, particularly in children. In fact they provide 400% of the daily requirement of vitamin A. Sweet potatoes are also high in vitamin C. While most people know that vitamin C is important to help ward off cold and flu viruses, this crucial vitamin also plays an important role in bone and tooth formation, digestion and blood cell formation. Compared to white potatoes, sweet potatoes have more fiber, fewer calories and despite the higher sugar content, less carbs.

Sweet potatoes are inexpensive and readily available at local farmers markets; harvested here in Tennessee during September and October primarily. They are a wonderful comfort food as we transition into the cooler months. When buying organic sweet potatoes, there is no need to peel them since the skins are thin and delicious. If they are not organic, ask the grower if they have any dyes or wax on their skins. One of the many benefits of buying at a local market is the growers are available for consultation and advice.

sweet-potatoThe best way to store the delicious sweet potato is in the coolest, darkest place available. Sweet potatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator, and not stored in a plastic bag. They will keep for a couple of weeks, maybe longer, in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place.

The delicious tuber treats can be prepared using a variety of culinary skills. The best methods are simple and healthy, not requiring any formal recipe. A healthy version of sweet potato fries is as easy as spraying cut sweet potatoes with oil, seasoning them with salt and cinnamon, and baking them in the oven. As sweet potatoes bake, some of their yummy sweetness will ooze out. Enjoy them roasted in the oven or simmered on the stovetop with broth while retaining their nutritional value.

If a favorite sweet potato recipe ends in the word “pie”, not to worry. This may not be the healthiest way to eat sweet potatoes, but definitely good for the soul. Not many vegetables hold center stage in a dessert! Sweet potatoes are often paired with pecans, another Southern treasure.

Following is an easy sweet potato recipe featuring Tennessee sweet potatoes and Tennessee whiskey. A match made in Heaven.

Tipsy Smashed Sweet Potatoes
-2 pounds of Tennessee sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1 inch cubes
-1/3 cup heavy cream
-3 tablespoons of butter
-2 tablespoons of Tennessee whiskey

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add sweet potatoes and cook until tender, 20 to 30 minutes.
With an electric mixer, blend cooked potatoes with cream and butter. Season to taste. Add whiskey. Serve warm.

Story by Lorraine Nilsen

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