Home-Cured Sweet Potatoes

When I pulled sweet potatoes out of the ground a week ago, I learned a lot of new things about sweet potatoes. For instance, you can’t just eat them right out of the ground. They need to be cured first in order to turn the starches into sugars.

aIMG_4363I still know very little about sweet potatoes. My neighbor had vaguely mentioned something about not digging them up until the plant had totally wilted/died, so I completely ignored them until a frost (which killed the plant) whereupon I sought the wisdom of the internet. Apparently killing the plant with frost is not great. That’s when I decided to dig them up.
aIMAG0573The first thing I did after digging them up (15 pounds!) was rinse them all off with the hose. Apparently this was a bad move (but much better than scrubbing the dirt off).  Right after washing them, I got online to read about how to store them, which is when I found out that a) you shouldn’t wash them and b) they need to be ‘cured’ before they taste sweet.  Curing turns the starches to sugars and heals up all the nicks and bruises (sweet potatoes are very thin-skinned).  This is accomplished by storing them at 90°F and 85% humidity for 5 to 7 days – the further they are from ideal conditions, the longer it takes to cure.

I do not have a hot and humid place in my house, but luckily the internet is a great resource, and had a viable solution for the average gardening hobbyist.  It’s a pretty simple setup, and works remarkably well.  A simple light bulb is used as a heat source, a pan of water to provide humidity, and a towel and thermometer to help keep things under control.  Note: you’ll need an incandescent bulb, CFLs and LEDs aren’t going to put out much heat.  I started out with a 60-watt bulb, and when that burnt out I changed to a 40-watt.

Place a 9×13 pan in the oven with a few cups of water in it. Turn the oven on for 5-10 minutes to heat everything up.  Wait until it cools down to 90°F, then put the light bulb in the oven – plugged in.  I tried to locate the light bulb near the center of the oven – it needs to be 6 inches away from the nearest sweet potato.  Despite the photos, no potatoes go in the oven until the temperature has stabilized.

aIMG_4352I don’t have an oven thermometer so I used our brewing thermometer.  I put it in a place where it was easy to read, but was as far from the heat source as practical.
aIMG_4327I put the pan of water on the bottom rack, but if you need more potato space it can go in the bottom of the oven. After everything is set up, let the temperature stabilize. I kept the oven door cracked open with an old kitchen towel, adding or removing a fold as needed to keep the temperature at 90°F.
aIMG_4319Once the temperature is stable at 90°F, place the (dry) potatoes in the oven. They should not touch each other, and should all be at least 6 inches away from the heat source. They should cure for 5 to 7 days like this.
aIMG_4340It’s not a particularly pretty setup, but it’s effective.  When I first dug the sweet potatoes, a milky white liquid leeched out wherever the skin was cut.  After curing, that liquid looked clear and caramelized, which is probably a good sign that the starches have turned into sugars.
aIMG_4368So that was an overly complicated explanation, which I’ll try to recap below in a more concise format.

How to Cure Sweet Potatoes at Home (credit for the awesome idea)
1.  Dig the potatoes. Brush off the dirt. Let them dry out for a few hours (do not wash! I rinsed mine with a hose and they don’t seem to have suffered any ill effects).
2.  Get a light bulb on a cord and a pan of water. Put the pan of water in the oven and let it the oven heat up to 90°F.
3.  Place the light bulb in the oven and plug in the cord. Crack the oven door open with a towel or similar. Let the temperature stabilize for about an hour – you may need to add or remove folds of the towel to achieve the desired temperature.
4.  When the temp is stable at 90°F, add the potatoes to the oven. They should not touch each other.
5.  Let the sweet potatoes cure for 5 to 7 days, periodically checking the temp and making sure there is water in the pan.

Easy as that!  I cured a few of the tiny tubers to maybe use as seed potatoes in the spring. One potato seemed to have started rotting a little during the curing process – the giant potato that was bigger than my trowel. I will eat that one first (probably for three meals!).  Other than that, the rest look great.

aIMG_4366Oh, and a final note on storing cured potatoes – a cool, dry place like a basement is perfect. They should keep for several months this way.
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