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Sweet potato storage tips

Friday, November 19, 2010; 8:40 PM

Ask Hayman connoisseurs how best to eat one, and they'll likely say baked: topped with butter and a bit of sugar, or not. Some rub the skins with bacon fat or bake the potatoes into pies or casseroles. Or fry them in a pan.

Haymans can be used in any sweet potato recipe for a sweeter result.

But if you unearth some Haymans - or O'Henrys or Porto Ricos or any other freshly grown variety - it's best to buy them unwashed and store them that way to preserve the flavors.

And although they can be eaten right away, their flavor is much improved by curing, which means storing them in a dark spot where the temperature stays above 55 degrees for three weeks or more. During that time, the starches turn to sugar. A seepage of dark sap is a sure sign of sweetness.

Northampton County, Va., extension agent Butch Nottingham (no relation to W.T. Nottingham) said Haymans reach their peak sweetness between Thanksgiving and Christmas but will keep until Saint Patrick's Day.

Any that last that long can be baked and frozen whole for a year-round treat.

Chester Satchell of Machipongo, Va., one of farmer William Harmon's customers, cures his Haymans the way his family always has, in the sun for two weeks until the skin takes on a slightly greenish hue.

"That's when you know they are nice and sweet," he said. "Mmmmm. That's good eating."

- Lorraine Eaton

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