This past summer I heard about some sweet potatoes that are purple. Neat I thought—I really like “funny” colored foods since it makes great dinner conversations. You know like purple, white and red carrots, blue Irish potatoes, green cauliflower etc.
It didn’t take much research to find out that the actual name of this particular sweet potatoes is Okinawan Purple Sweet Potato and it is a real regular in Hawaii and supposedly comes originally from Japan. Loaded with great nutrition, as all sweet potatoes are, it has been used in studies and research on treating and controlling diabetes.
How neat I thought and decided right then that I had to have some of them to grow here in my own garden since of course Georgia and sweet potatoes pretty much go hand in hand.
However, deciding to grow purple colored sweet potatoes was easier than actually finding them, kind of like back in the 80′s if you wanted to grow blue potatoes. I proceeded to get on line and search under various key words: Okinawan, purple slips, Sweet potato + purple slips. Every way I could thing to try and get a hit. The first web site I came across during my search for slips was Sandhill preservation but unfortunately….even that early in the season…they already knew they would not have any of the Okinawan for 2008. From what I read on Sandhill’s and some others sites, they are a slow and difficult to get slips from. So on I searched (and searched and searched some more) until I found a gentleman down in Florida that had some slips for the Okinawan and another purplish sweet potato that he grew. http://www.michaels4gardens.com/
I contacted him through email and proceeded to purchase 25 slips of each variety from him.
A week or so after I placed my order they showed up in the mail one hot late-spring day. Opening the box and removing them, I saw that they were wilted which then led me to then notice that they didn’t really have much root—but lots of top. So, I put them into a very large bowl of water to get a drink and cut off about half of their tops so they wouldn’t have as much leaf to support. I thought about rooting the cut off portion but did not do it at that time for two reasons. One, I was expecting another order of orange sweet potato slips and I only had so much room for all of these root crops. Two, I wasn’t sure if we would like them and so I didn’t want to grow HUGE quantities of something we might hate—or at least not like very much.
I kept them in the house for about two weeks in water and they just really didn’t seem to do much. They lived, but the amount of root on them was still just not very much. I really can’t even tell you if they added any new root during that time. Finally, I decided they had to leave since they were taking up too much space on the counter. So, I waited for a raining, cloudy day and proceeded to transplant all of them out into an area that had been previously prepped for them. For two days it rained lightly. It was cloudy and perfect transplant weather. Then we got our first sunny day. When I went out that first sunny evening to water seeds and new seedlings every one of those sweet potato slips was wilted. So I watered them well and by the next morning—they looked fine. However by later that afternoon—wilted again. So out came all my wire half hoops and my burlap fabric I keep just for this reason and shade cloth was set up over them. Doubled up shade cloth to be exact.
So, to make a long story shorter….I watered and watered and watered. Finally about 3 weeks after putting them in the ground I removed one layer of burlap and another week later and I removed the whole mess. And though the slips had added some growth during that time it was not much. After a bit of thought about the issue…..we fertilized. Just a little bit, using an organic nitrogen form of course, and then Tah Dah! They took off. And by that I mean they proceeded to take over their part of the garden. They grew into the walk path and got weed whacked back, grew around the pepper plants— which seemed to like it, and made basically the best living mulch I have ever had. No weed dared grow in their area and the few that bravely tried to put their heads up above those plants were easy to see and pull.
Finally this weekend we had friends over for a lamb recently butchered and we pulled some of those purple sweet potatoes. Some of those absolutely huge, whopper, immensely giant sweet potatoes which we baked up to serve with our grilled lamb. We told everyone that we had never had them before so everyone was on their own as far as how to “dress” them and if they were good or not.
Comments ranged from “pretty good—very nice color” to “really like them—and I have never ever liked orange sweet potatoes”.
My description, so that you can get a better idea is this: They are less sweet than a orange sweet potato but sweeter than a potato. They are denser than either of the others mentioned in an interesting way. One could almost say a pasty way—but that sounds like a bad thing which it wasn’t–to me and the others anyway. My husband and I never could quite come up with a non negative sounding comparison to describe the texture but I liked it—though as mentioned it is different than the orange sweet or regular potato texture.
I generally use my leftover sweet potatoes for pancakes, biscuits and other baked goods and I believe these will be really nice for that since they are not as moist (wet??) as common sweets. However, I did not get a chance to bake with them this weekend so I will have to comment on that later.
If you would like to try purple sweet potatoes I do recommend them—if nothing else than for a great living mulch or as a novelty. They definitely started some interesting conversations and the little kids there really liked them a lot. As a matter of fact one mom said her child was generally a very picky eater but he ate lots of purple sweet potato…and lamb.
Supposedly you can find these interesting sweets in the produce section of areas with a higher Asian population. High enough populations that they would regularly bring “odd/unusual” foods in since the demand is great enough. If you can find one you can use it to start your own sweet potato slips. Also too I would think that those of you in warmer growing zones, say 8 and up, might be able to find them with only a small amount of searching.
If your like me and neither of those situations fit you and you want slips to grow these beauties yourself my suggestion is to start looking early and get on a waiting list for those who will sell them next year (spring 2009). I am sure, just like blue potatoes and purple carrots, it won’t be long before many growers have them—until then we have to search a bit to get a hold of them. Hopefully I will be successful in storing some of mine for use next year—maybe even with a few to trade or sell to others.
I did not take a picture before they were eaten this weekend so the picture is courtesy of a RW Smith Photography. It is however just as my sweets looked—but mine were bigger. Much bigger!