Purple sweet potatoes?
You see the sign in front of a basket of vaguely purple tubers at your local farmers market and you think, “Really?”
But six or seven years ago when Bryan Hager of Crager Hager Farm in Bremen saw purple sweet potatoes in a store he thought, “That looks interesting.”
Purple sweet potatoes look a lot like the familiar orange sweet potato. Same shape. Available in the same range of sizes. But the purple-tinted skin is a hint that the potato flesh inside is a bright royal purple found in few other foods in nature.
Hager took some of those potatoes home and baked them. “I liked the flavor so I decided to give growing them a try.”
He started with five pounds. “It took me two years to turn those five pounds of potatoes into slips that produce enough potatoes that I could begin selling them. Now I grow 2,000 to 3,000 pounds a year and keep enough tubers to grow on for next year. Then we sell the rest.”
Each year Hager walks his patch selecting the best-looking plants. Then he saves the tubers from those plants to be the parents of next year’s crop. Each potato will yield 10 to 20 slips, which will each grow into a new plant.
Hager’s research has led him to believe the purple variety is an Okinawan sweet potato. “All sweet potatoes originated in Peru, and as they were distributed around the world, different people bred them looking for different things. The Japanese are specialists at selecting vegetables for a variety of different colors and flavors and probably they are the ones who bred for the purple.”
Purple sweet potatoes don’t produce as many pounds of tubers per plant or square foot as orange sweet potatoes, so there’s a slight premium price to pay for the purple variety. Hager plants about the same square footage of both the purple and orange varieties, but says he gets about 3 orange sweet potatoes for every two of the purple.
Properly cured after harvest, sweet potatoes can keep for six to even twelve months if stored in a dark room at about 60 degrees. “We built a root cellar and that’s where we store our potatoes until they’re sold or we eat them up.”
How does the Crager-Hager household enjoy its purple sweet potatoes? “I find the orange sweet potatoes by themselves are a little too sweet. So I like the purple ones mixed with Irish potatoes and orange sweet potatoes and roasted with other root vegetables. Or we do some fun stuff like mixing a purple sweet potato in with Irish potatoes to make pink mashed potatoes. We make purple sweet potato pie and even purple biscuits by adding a little roasted sweet potato to the biscuit dough.” His purple sweet potato pie is actually a marbled sweet potato pie with purple sweet potato filling swirled into orange sweet potato filling. And he makes his filling with coconut milk rather than dairy milk.
As for his customers at the Carrolton Cotton Mill Farmers Market’s “Impromptu Market” held during the winter, Hager says sometimes they get a little confused between the purple sweet potatoes and purple-skinned Irish potatoes which are just barely lavender inside. “If they don’t know what these are, we have to do a little education. We explain they’re less sweet than the orange ones and have a lot of fiber. We encourage them to have a sense of adventure and try things. It costs almost nothing. And once they try them, they tend to come back for more.”
Hager also sells his sweet potatoes to Serenbe restaurants the Farmhouse and the Hil and to the Turnip Truck that distributes produce to a range of metro Atlanta restaurants.
He expects he’ll have purple sweet potatoes to sell through February.
Roasted Purple Sweet Potatoes with Miso Honey Butter and Red Chile Cherry Jam
Step up your roasted sweet potato presentation with this recipe. It’s a collaboration between Venkman’s sous chef Keenan Boyles and executive chef and partner Nick Melvin. It’s on the menu for as long as purple sweet potatoes are available. Boyles and Melvin source their purple sweet potatoes from Cass Fraunfelder of Finch Creek Farms.
The butter and jam are unusual and colorful counterparts for the richness of the potatoes. Start the potatoes baking and then whip up the butter and jam. They’ll all be ready at the same time.
4 purple sweet potatoes (8 ounces each)
1/2 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons Maldon sea salt
Miso Honey Butter (see recipe)
Red Chile Cherry Jam (see recipe)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a medium bowl, toss sweet potatoes in oil and salt. Arrange on a baking sheet and bake 30 to 45 minutes or until done.
Slice cooked potatoes down the middle, leaving ends intact. Push the ends together to create a “blossom” opening in the center of the potatoes. Dollop with Miso Honey Butter and Red Chile Cherry Jam and serve immediately. Serves: 4
Per serving: 331 calories (percent of calories from fat, 50), 3 grams protein, 40 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 18 grams fat (3 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 2,840 milligrams sodium.
Miso Honey Butter
8 tablespoons salted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons organic sweet white miso
2 tablespoons honey
4 teaspoons soy sauce
While potatoes are baking, in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter, butter, miso, honey and soy sauce and whip until fully combined. Set aside at room temperature until ready to use. Refrigerate any leftovers for up to 1 month. Makes: 3/4 cup
Per 1-tablespoon serving: 92 calories (percent of calories from fat, 80), 1 gram protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 8 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 21 milligrams cholesterol, 297 milligrams sodium.
Red Chile Cherry Jam
You can use any red wine you have on hand, but Venkman’s executive chef Nick Melvin suggests a Pinot Noir would be especially nice.
1 cup chili garlic sauce
1 cup dried sour cherries (about 6 ounces)
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
Salt and pepper
In a medium pot over medium-high heat, combine chili garlic sauce, cherries, red wine, red wine vinegar and brown sugar. Bring to a boil and cook until mixture reaches a jam-like consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside to cool. May be made up to 1 month ahead and refrigerated. Makes: 1 3/4 cups
Per 1-tablespoon serving: 33 calories (percent of calories from fat, 2), trace protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 7 milligrams sodium.
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