Sweet potatoes have become increasingly popular as a part of a healthy diet. They’re packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and protein. These warm-season crops are particularly well suited for the hot, dry weather of northeastern Kansas gardens. Sweet potatoes are in season from October through December, coinciding with the holidays.   

Sweet potatoes are easy to grow even in poor soil. The recommended planting time is the last two weeks of May. They take about 130 days to mature for a harvest just before the first frost.   

If you were to cook a sweet potato right after you dug it up, it wouldn’t taste very sweet. Even more, the skins are thin and easily damaged. After harvest, sweet potatoes need to be cured. Curing helps to heal the cuts and bruises sustained during harvest. Curing also allows the starches to break down and convert into natural sugars. This is what makes sweet potatoes sweet.    

To begin the curing process, remove sweet potatoes from the garden immediately after harvest. Gently brush off any loose dirt without washing. Place the sweet potatoes in a warm, humid environment with good ventilation for about a week or so. Once properly cured, sweet potatoes will feel firm with a dry, rough skin. Store in a cool, dark space and they should keep for several months.   

The holidays are a time for focusing on family and friends and a chance to enjoy eating lots of delicious food. Most holiday meals end with the choice of several pies.

Many Americans are unaware of one of the most controversial dessert debates in the country – pumpkin pie or sweet potato pie? This seemingly innocuous proposition has rabid supporters on both sides. Sweet potato pie is equally beloved by southerners, black and white. However, pumpkin pie is the favorite holiday pie outside of the South. It seems that white folks outside of the South aren’t familiar with sweet potato pie. This must be the best kept secret in cooking.     

Europeans introduced pumpkin pie to the people of West Africa during the 1500s. Enslaved Africans who were brought to the United States substituted sweet potatoes because they were easier to grow than pumpkins. Abby Fisher, a freed slave, wrote the first published recipe for sweet potato pie in her book, “What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Southern Cooking” published in 1881. Before 1910, 90 percent of African Americans lived in the South. During the Great Migration, six million African Americans left the South for urban areas in the rest of the country, taking with them their family traditions. For many black folks, myself included, social interactions are centered around food – soul food – and sweet potato pie is almost sacred. It connects us to each other and reminds us of home. My mother, Earthell Bynum, makes the most delicious sweet potato pies I’ve ever tasted. Sweet potato pie has a velvety smoothness and more texture than pumpkin, but the flavor is very similar. If you’ve never had sweet potato pie, start a new tradition. You can find one at any soul food restaurant. Patti LaBelle makes a delicious version available at Walmart. They’re not as good as Earthell’s, but they’re a very good choice.    

Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at rnlyes@hotmail.com