The First Sweet Potato

Late last fall I put a new vegetable bed into use. After several years of accumulating compost and shoveling cinder soil I actually have something like real soil in a large enough quantity to call a vegetable garden.

One of the first things planted were sweet potatoes. Deb and I love the local purple sweet potatoes. The Okinawan variety is a favorite through the islands and has become a staple on our table as well, usually purchased from local growers at the farmers market.

Knowing that these are pretty easy to grow I gave it a try. I planted a ten by ten area with half a dozen slips and arranged a soaker hose that runs on the automatic drip system. It was not long before I had green foliage popping up. The potato patch certainly looks healthy enough, the plants thriving in the Waikoloa sunlight. The patch quickly became a heavy tangle of vines with pretty white and purple flowers.

Sweet Potato Tuber
A single enormous Okinawan sweet potato tuber from our garden.
This weekend I finally decided to do a trial run at digging up a plant to see what I have… To my stunned amazement I have not a pile of little tubers, but one giant tuber right underneath the main plant. What the heck is this?

This thing was huge, six inches long and five inches in diameter, weighing several pounds. There was enough in this single tuber for several meals!

Consider the usual Okinawan sweet potato is an inch or two in diameter and four or five inches long. Why is this so different? The starting stock for my potato patch was quite typical, just a few Okinawans I had bought at the farmers market and set aside for planting. I expected to get much the same out of the ground, not this giant.

One potato. A single potato covered the bottom of a large 9×14″ baking dish.

Par-boiled and broiled Okinawan sweet potato
Par-boiled and broiled Okinawan sweet potato
I prepared this sweet potato by peeling away the thick skin, chopping it into large cubes, and parboiling for 40 minutes. My mother taught me that par-boiling is the best method for sweet potatoes, I do believe she was right.

I use the boil and sit method of par-boiling… Bring the pot of water and potato to a full rolling boil, then turn it off and let it sit and cool for 40-45 minutes. Apparently the cooling lets the potatoes pass through the perfect temperature range for starch to sugar conversion.

I then spread the chunks in a large glass baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and spices, then broil on high until lightly golden brown.

I was truly worried the result would be woody and inedible. The large tuber was so different than I expected. To my great surprise my first potato from the new patch was excellent!

Dinner was Alaskan Halibut, salad and sweet potato. The salad was dressed up with cherry tomatoes, also from the back yard. Not a bad meal considering we had sourced most of it, the Halibut being some we had caught in Alaska last year.

Reading further on sweet potatoes I find mention that sometimes a plant will do this, form a single large tuber instead of several smaller tubers. I have enough cooked potato in the fridge for a few meals, I will probably not dig another plant up for a week or two, I wonder what I will find?

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

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