Harvesting Sweet Potatoes with Gratitude

Beautiful yam harvest.

I am in sensory heaven.  Outside frost is again settling – a rarity here in Fallbrook, CA.  Inside…. mmmm.  My daughter is juicing today’s harvest of oranges.  On the stove I’m poaching the last of the Harry and David pears my son sent before Christmas, in a bath of Julian apple cider (I’ve had frozen since October!), cinnamon and vanilla.  There is a touch of woodsmoke from the wood burning stove.  The mingled aroma of vanilla, orange and cinnamon in the air is incredible.  In the fire are two homegrown potatoes in foil baking for dinner, and I’m cutting squares of homemade bread (it rained the other day… great baking and soup day!) to toast in the fire on fondue forks with mozzarella cheese and drizzled with Just Dip It (an olive oil, vinegar and herb blend from Temecula Olive Oil Co.).  I am saturated with contentment and gratitude.

I wanted to write a blogpost for the first day of the year about gratitude.  Instead I’m writing about harvesting yams and sweet potatoes, which, I believe, amounts to the same thing.

Tiny Russian Banana potatoes I grew in a nursery container

Today the air was clean and almost 60 degrees F.  Maxfield Parrish clouds filled the sky making it hard to pay attention to anything else.  My daughter and I finally fired up Harry Mud, the cob oven.  We experimented by baking small frozen pizzas, to success.  Then in went homegrown, wrapped sweet potatoes, garlic and russet potatoes to slowly bake in the ashes.  I hope I can convey sweetness of sitting outdoors on New Year’s Day eating pizza and smelling home grown potatoes and garlic cooking in a mud oven that we built, from mud from our property, as a snowy egret watched us carefully from the pond and our hens figured out how to beg. Peace.  Enjoying the payoff of hard work.  Eating health.

In the last few days we’ve dug up several patches of yams and sweet potatoes, the greenery of which had just been frosted black.  I plant them all over the property to fill the groundcover niche of the plant guilds.   I also grew some in my raised veggie beds.  Some of the sweet potatoes had been small last year and so I left them in the ground.  They grew.

This enormous one was six pounds!

The flavor of homegrown, organic potatoes is beyond description.  You don’t need sugar and marshmallows dumped on the yams; potatoes aren’t just a vehicle for toppings.  I steam them, eat them with butter, salt and pepper.  Phenomenal.  On Christmas I roasted wedges of yams with garlic and olive oil, and not only were they terrific, the leftovers I mixed into a hash for breakfast and  it was sensational.

Freshly dug sweet potatoes

Yams and sweet potatoes are what Americans call the orange or white tubers, respectively, sold in the grocery stores.  There are actually hundreds of varieties of sweet potatoes of many colors and flavors.  They are semi-tropical and like warmth.  To grow, buy an organic sweet potato or yam and allow it to sprout on your counter.  This is the easiest way.  You may also buy slips from organic growers.  Please, please don’t buy non-organic seed, slips or bulbs.  Please don’t be Round-up Ready.

Colorful yams full of antioxidants.

Take a sharp knife and cut slices from your sprouted yam, each containing at least one sprouted ‘eye’ , and lay them out to air dry for a couple of days in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight.  This hardens them off. Don’t plant a whole potato because the plant will have all the food it needs to produce greenery and won’t feel the need to make as many tubers.  Plant the slips in well-drained soil that isn’t heavily manured; as long as water doesn’t sit around the roots, they will probably grow.  I’ve had luck in many kinds of soil.  The plants will spread out in a lovely, glossy-leaved groundcover that protects the soil and reduces weeds.  Let the vines run and enjoy the small yam flower.  Harvest in late fall, or when the greenery dies off.

Frosted leaves of sweet potatoes

Carefully dig and lift the potatoes. The skin will be more delicate than on yams store-bought. Lay the dirt-caked potatoes out to dry off before you store them in a cool dark place.  Keep small slips and roots for replanting.  The flavor of homegrown organic potatoes will make you wonder what the tasteless mushy things you’ve been eating have been.

This last year had its share of terrible losses, worry, pain and disappointment, along with great joy and contentment if I opened my eyes to them.  They say that you reap what you sow, and as the garden and my experience deepens, and as my life mellows, I feel the truth in it.  This morning we had fresh juice made of passionfruit, guava, oranges and pomegranates, all of which we grew.  The potatoes, garlic, squash, greens, pickles, passionfruit curd, strawberry jam, dried tomatoes, all are at hand because of planning, sowing, nurturing, harvesting and preserving or storing. This may seem incongruous, but I am astonished at how many friends I  have gained this year, through my volunteer work and exercise classes, in addition to those gained while working with County Parks, Sullivan Middle School, and the SDZoo Safari Park.  So many that I wrote out the names and counted and marveled.  Perhaps the list would be small for others; I don’t know, but it is wondrous and enough for me.  At age 51, I have more friends and good acquaintances than I’ve ever had in my life. I am so grateful. I not only reap what I sow, but just as in my garden harvest, I have more than I could have imagined.

I do not follow a religion.  In Buddhism it is said that life is a walking meditation; that every step you take is a prayer.  As I put one foot in front of the other walking through the last part of my life, as I dig yams and eat them redolent with the health of good soil, as I watch those Maxfield Parrish clouds, as I laugh and work with friends who miraculously smile when they see me, I wordlessly pray my gratitude to the universe.

I very truly wish for you a year filled with gratitude and peace, and health-giving food that nourishes your heart and soul as well as your body.

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