Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Mashed sweet potatoes, side viewThis has been one busy week. On top of regular work projects that needed attention and various urgent home repairs, I had to complete an 8,000 word essay for the journal Food and Foodways. I submitted a proposal last spring to write an essay on the Birmingham Public Library Archives collection of interviews of the people of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and it was accepted. You may have heard of Gee’s Bend’s Quilts; they have become nationally and internationally famous, touring around the country and inspiring books, plays, and museum exhibitions. But my interest in Gee’s Bend has to do with food. The Archives happens to have about 30 interviews of “Gee’s Benders” from the late 70s and early 80s; and Gee’s Benders talk to their interviewer about growing up this isolated part of Alabama in the early to mid-twentieth century. Though they talk about quilts, politics, and religion, one of their favorite subjects is traditional soul food: collard greens, black eyed peas, cornbread, pork, and of course, sweet potatoes.

Whole Sweet TatersThough I had an entire summer to write this article, I did not actually begin writing until about a month ago when my other work at the Library seemed to settle down a bit. But of course, things never settle down like you think they will, and this final week of writing was filled with early mornings, long days, and late evenings. Then, in the middle of the week, when I didn’t have a moment to think about cooking, Glenn brought home the first of this season’s sweet potatoes. I got home from work on Wednesday night, tired and cranky, and saw them sitting on the counter, just another thing needing my attention. I thought about looking up a recipe or two, wondering what fancy schmancy thing I could do with them, but I just couldn’t do it. I was exhausted. 

So, I did the absolutely simplest thing I Sweet potato, split side viewcould do: I washed them, poked them with a fork, and threw them in the oven to roast for about an hour while I watched House Hunters…er, I mean CSPAN. When they were tender, I split them in half, scooped out the meat, and mashed them in a bowl with butter, brown sugar and sea salt. That’s it. That was dinner. Comfort food in a bowl. The people of Gee’s Bend didn’t mess with any butter, brown sugar, and sea salt, but I think they would have approved. To make a long week’s story short, I got my essay turned in on Friday, but with a little help from some mid-week soul food that absolutely lived up to its name.

 Sweet Potatoes, all mashed upMashed Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes (I used two big ones)

about 1/4 cup of brown sugar

about a 1/2 stick of butter (4 tablespoons)

between 1/2 and a full teaspoon of sea salt

Wash (scrub if you’re scareda dirt) and poke holes in sweet potatoes (to let the steam escape). Roast them in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour. My sweet potatoes were big and took a whole hour. DO NOT TAKE THEM OUT EARLY–they will be kind of tough and stringy and just no fun. I put mine in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients and mashed them with a potato masher, but feel free to use a mixer if you don’t like yours with some lumps. Because the size of sweet potatoes varies (don’t worry, size doesn’t matter, unlike what some people tell you), test the butter/sugar/salt ratio until you find something you like. I particularly love sea salt in this recipe. The coarseness of the salt granules means they don’t quite melt all the way, and a little salty grain is nice with such a sweet vegetable. If you’ve got it, I would recommend some pork ribs or collard greens with these (Gee’s Benders knew what they were doing).

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False Start

To those of you who subscribed to this blog and, who knows, may have even gotten slightly interested in it…or posted a comment…or have been waiting more than a full year for the next post…er, I’m sorry. I’m calling it a false start, a fumble, a fault. Let’s try this again.

See Kelsey Cook and Maybe Sometimes Mess Up Cooking

See Kelsey cook and maybe sometimes mess up cooking

Since my last post (I won’t say when that was; it’s just embarrassing), there has been one major change in my life. My husband, Glenn, has left the architecture field for one a little more, um, green, shall we say. He is now an organic farmer with Jones Valley Urban Farm, here in Birmingham. Although just slightly less profitable (eh hem) than architecture, farming does give this blog a new focus, which is finding something to do with the wonderful produce he brings home each week. Believe me, I love being paid in cherry tomatoes and okra, but let’s face it…for anyone who has ever participated in a CSA or who has a friend with a VERY productive garden, week after week of squash, collard greens, or eggplant can just get boring. Or maybe boring isn’t the word…maybe it’s simply overwhelming. It’s difficult enough thinking of new things to cook for your family, now try to cook the same thing for your family over and over again. Yeah, you won’t get any complaints at all, right? Um, no.

Glenn and Forks Sellin' Veggies at Mt. Laurel Farmer's Market

Glenn and Forks sellin' veggies at Mt. Laurel Farmer's Market

When I say that Glenn is getting paid in vegetables, I’m really quite serious. As an organic farmer, the food he brings home IS part of his pay–it has to be! So, that food becomes the focus of our meals–anything we buy compliments the fresh vegetables that, figuratively, extend his paycheck. So, despite the loss of income, I do still shop at Whole Foods and buy the occasional proscuitto, salmon filet, or expensive bleu cheese, but all are used sparingly, to heighten the taste of what has been grown by my husband, in the thick red clay of Alabama.

Proscuitto

Face it, veggies are good, but proscuitto is delicious!

Whether you live in Alabama or elsewhere, I hope the recipes and stories I share here will help you eat more vegetables in more ways; experiment with food, even if it doesn’t always work (believe me, I’ve served many a mediocre or just plain bad dinner more than once a few times); or just help you extend the food you get from your garden, your CSA box, your overly productive neighbor, or your market.

Birminghamfoodgirl’s first post. Welcome!

Welcome to birminghamfoodgirl’s first post! I am excited to share with you my interests in eating, cooking, planting, and researching food. I am a writer who has an interest in food history and will share thoughts, photos, and some of my cooking conquests and tragedies. I will also share with you some great finds from The Birmingham Public Library Archives and other collections around the country.

I’m excited to be here in Birmingham, Alabama–the warm, sunny South. I am originally from Maryland (I grew up in Annapolis and Hagerstown and spent ten years of my adult life in Baltimore), and when I met my husband (who is from Birmingham originally), we decided to take a chance and move to the Deep South. Never having been to Alabama for any long period of time, I did not know what to expect. I’ve found that the culture here is rich and the people here are some of the nicest I’ve ever met. I look forward to sharing with you my experiences!

Here is my latest experiment. I have been accumulating Twinings Earl Grey loose tea tins for a couple of years knowing I would eventually find something ingenious to do with them. And I’m so tired of buying overpriced herbs at the grocery store in the winter.

  

The long vine-y looking one on the right is purple basil. I also have some green basil which is growing a bit better than the purple. My dog breathing on them while looking out the window can’t help.

birds-eye-of-herbs.jpg

Left to right (top row): sage and thyme, (bottom row) lavender and oregano