From Slip to the Oven
The middle of May came quicker than expected. Fruit blossoms are forming small fruits, the trees are greening up and those bright yellow dandelion flowers are everywhere. Dad is unusually busy right now. The truck patch is plowed, harrowed and planted. The usual staple crops still need to be planted.
More potatoes are cut and left to dry. Rows are scored out, and we planted beans, tomatoes and corn. Mom instructed us that the beans should be planted two inches apart, and only one bean at a time. To do otherwise is wasting. Her all time favorite string bean is the Roma. We then planted the tomatoes two feet apart, and each hole gets a cup of water. They are not so fussy about which variety of tomato to plant. No name is mentioned, maybe Rutgers or Better Boy. A trip is made to the local hothouse and we planted six or seven dozen. Lots of medium size fruit is the goal. It won't be unusual to can one-hundred quarts of tomatoes in one form or another. Stewed tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, juice, catsup, we will eat it all. Dad chose Sugar and Cream for the early sweet corn, Silver Queen for early fall harvesting. Again we are instructed to drop the corn kernels one at a time, and twelve inches apart.
The most fascinating event for me; earlier in April Dad planted a really large sweet potato in a small wooden box. It was covered with good garden soil and placed outside on the east windowsill by the kitchen sink for all to see. Little green sprouts soon appeared and grew from this big potato. After they grew to three inches in length, Dad pinched them off to be "trenched". This meant nothing more than digging a furrow a couple inches deep, and laying a bunch of the green sprouts on their side to grow bigger for planting. After that big potato produced enough, he discarded it and a sweet potato row was made. This was definitely a job for skilled hands. We just watched. I later learned that that big potato was called a slip because it reproduced plants for us to use.
A deep furrow was created by using a scoring out shovel pulled by one of Pappy Ream's mules, or a borrowed tractor. In later years when he could afford it, Dad got a Farm-all F Tractor. Into the twelve inch furrow we put whatever Dad had available. It consisted of old chicken or pig manure, or maybe composted leaves from the fall before. Somehow it contained a very fertile mixture of good farm soil with a mixture of the above. Dad then used a Syracuse plow to form the mound on top of the filled furrow, throwing soil up on one side and then the other. Then he and Mom meticulously raked the entire sweet potato row until it was perfect. The sides of the twelve inch mound had the same angle and height and the top was flat.
Having accomplished this, we are instructed to help plant. Dad had a pointed wooden dowel with a handle he used to make a series of holes, of course in a very straight row, into which we planted the sweet potato plants. One person followed Dad and dropped a plant next to the hole. Someone followed and put in some water, and someone else finished the task by planting the tender, rooted plants. Another perfect sweet potato row made, and everyone took some credit.
The plants found the needed nutrients in the depths of the mound and grew like crazy, with vines everywhere.
Fast forward seven months to Autumn. Luscious growth covers the mound, and the colors of the vines turned to a deep purple. Time to take out the sweet potatoes. As usual, we are excited. The same shovel plow is used to dig deep into the rich mound of soil, and up come potatoes of all sizes and shapes. Some as big as a man's fist, others the diameter of a silver dollar. Now it is Mom's turn to do her magic.
Candied, boiled, baked, it didn't matter. She made them; we ate them. Thanksgiving and Christmas always produced a big iron skillet full of rich, gooey candied sweet potatoes.
I am only ten or twelve, and we are still using a wood fired cook stove with a big oven. By now the big potatoes were used up except for one large one saved for next year's slip. Mom would lay the smaller ones on a cookie sheet and bake them until soft and crispy on the outside, and hot, steamy and tender on the inside. Cut a couple open, put a tab of real butter in the slit and I am in Heaven. This is my all time favorite way of eating sweet potatoes
God is good.