Sweet potato recipes and growing tips

Tracy Rutherford’s sweet potato and cannellini bean mash

600g sweet potato
400g can white beans (eg, cannellini), rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons milk
small knob butter (optional)
black pepper to taste

1. Cut the sweet potato into 2cm chunks, then steam over a pan of boiling water for about 10 minutes, until tender.
2. Add the drained cannellini beans to the sweet potato and mash together until smooth. Add in the milk and a knob of butter, plus a grind of black pepper to taste, and serve as a side dish to accompany your favourite steamed greens and grilled or pan-fried meats.

More sweet potato recipes
In the May 2009 issue of ‘Burke’s Backyard’ magazine, on sale now, Tracy Rutherford has a wonderful ‘Jacket Sweet Potatoes’ bake in the Kitchen Garden section. Sweet potatoes are in season now, and Tracy’s recipe turns sweet potatoes into cases containing a stuffing of feta cheese, English spinach, chives, dill and grated parmesan cheese. They’re yummy!

Sweet potato growing tips

Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are native to the tropical parts of the Americas and are one of our oldest cultivated crops. There are several different types of sweet potato, some with red skin, or orange skin (the kumara), as well as white skin and purple skin. Flesh colour varies from white to orangey-yellow and purple.

Best spot: in the garden, sweet potato plants spread rapidly and take up a lot of space. They’re easy to grow, provided you give them plenty of sunshine. They do better in lighter, sandier soils than in heavy clay soils.

Best climate: in mild temperate zones such as the NSW coast, September to November is the best time to plant them, but in the warmer zones of the subtropics and tropics, plant them anytime between July and March each year. They’re not suitable for colder zones.

How to plant: you can grow sweet potatoes from shop-bought tubers. Put a tuber into a box full of moist potting mix or sand. After a week, carefully uncover it and check to see if there are any shoots appearing from the tuber. Cut the tuber into sections, each with its own shoot. Plant them, shoot up, about 8cm deep, spacing each piece about 1m apart. (In the tropics, you can also grow sweet potatoes via cuttings taken from an existing plant.)

Growing tips: after planting, sprinkle a handful of Dynamic Lifter (or other complete plant food) per square metre and water in. Keep growing plants well watered, and fertilise again about 10 weeks later on. Unless you’re on acreage, there’s every chance your sweet potato vines will try to take over the garden and spread far and wide, so it’s up to you to keep them cut back to a reasonable size.

Harvesting: your crop should be ready to harvest about four to five months after planting, depending on your climate zone. Just wait until the leaves start to fade and yellow – that’s your best sign that it’s harvest time. You don’t have to harvest them all at once, either. Sweet potatoes keep quite well if left in the ground, so just pull up one plant at a time, and leave the others there, until needed.