Q: For Christmas, my eighty-year-old dad wants a bushel of sweet potatoes that have been laid out in the sun to dry after being dug up, like his family in Alabama did. According to him, sweet potatoes are now kiln dried and thus are not as sweet and flavorful.
A: It’s true that sweet potatoes must be “cured” after harvest. The process, called suberization, causes the skin to thicken so the potato doesn’t dry out. In addition, curing causes starch in the tuber to turn into sugar. Under ideal conditions, potatoes are held at 80 degrees for seven days and then at 60 degrees for seven weeks. Despite your father’s memories, curing under controlled conditions results in the best end product. The process doesn’t have to be complicated. Small gardeners can make a home-made curing chamber out of a large cardboard box that sits in the sun during the day for a week. A good source for hand-cured potatoes would be a local farmers market.