Sweet Success of Sweet Potato Pie

This morning I couldn’t wait to head down to the pantry and grab two more jars of my pressure canned sweet potatoes.  All failures aside, I had to find out if these potatoes were pie-worthy or not.

I had a recipe for sweet potato pie that I’d used in the past, but the sweet potato had always been very firm.  Not wanting the pie to come out soupy, I decided to compare my sweet potato pie recipe to my pumpkin pie recipe.  I freeze pumpkin puree in the fall and when I defrost and add it to the other pie ingredients it is super runny, almost like water.  That being the case, there must be something in that recipe that pulls the ingredients together.

There were very few differences between these two recipes except for the amount of eggs and the sweet potato pie called for butter while the pumpkin pie called for evaporated milk.  Aside from adding instant tapioca to pull the ingredients together, I had no idea if eliminating the butter or adding evaporated milk would make any difference, but what could it hurt.  I adjusted the recipe and made the pie.

Deep Dish Sweet Potato Pie

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  • 3 Cups Mashed Sweet Potatoes (this was 2 quarts of mine from the pantry)
  • 1 Cup Evaporated Milk
  • 1 1/2 Cups Sugar
  • 3/4 Cup Whole Milk
  • 3 Eggs
  • 3/4 tsp. each Nutmeg and Cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Vanilla
  • 1 Unbaked Pie Crust

Drain sweet potatoes and put in large bowl.  Mash slightly.  Add remaining ingredients and whisk until well combined.  Pour mixture into crust-lined deep pie dish.

Bake at 400 for 1 hour 15 minutes.

Hubby had some after dinner tonight and gave me the thumbs up, he’d have said something, but he was too busy shoveling another bite into his mouth.  When he did finally come up for air, when I was cutting his second piece, he told me it was “really good,” the only comment was that it could be colder.  It had been in the fridge all afternoon, but being a deep dish pie, the center was still warm. He said it was not watery in the least.  I knew this already because when I cut his piece, the pie filling didn’t fall in.  It stayed put!

After so many things going wrong with these sweet potatoes, it’s nice to finally be able to check one off as a success, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

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Canned Sweet Potato Conundrum

Earlier this month I completed my first canning project of 2015 – sweet potatoes.  I was thrilled with the 21 quarts of sweet potatoes I put on the pantry shelf and could hardly wait to start using them.  This was the first time I had canned these and according to everything I’d read, home-canned sweet potatoes were excellent.

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Last week I cracked open the first jar, drained off the water, added a bit of salt and a tablespoon of brown sugar and popped them in the oven.  Thirty-five minutes later I pulled them out. The wonderfully sweet smell couldn’t be missed.  Anxious to see if they tasted as sweet as they smelled, I snuck a taste before putting them on the table.  Stabbing a potato with a fork, the potato broke right in half.  Very tender.  They smelled great, they were super tender, what more could I ask for?

Well, after eating the potato I had my answer:  Taste, oh and perhaps a bit of texture.  The sweet potatoes were tender that was for sure, tender to a fault.  They were water-logged.  And although the taste was there, that too was water-logged.  I was completely disappointed.

Why?  Why were my potatoes such a failure?  In all the articles I’d read on the internet, not one complained of their potatoes being tasteless or water-logged.  What had I done wrong?  More importantly though, what could I do to remedy this situation?  Or, if there was no remedy, what could I possibly use the remaining 20 quarts of potatoes for?

Feeling defeated, I decided to let the situation rest.  I was far too upset to attempt a solution.  At that point all I wanted to do was open every one of those remaining 20 quarts and pour them down the drain.

This happened a little over a week ago.  Since then I have gone in the pantry countless times and seen those 20 quarts sitting on the shelf mocking me.  The sick feeling in the pit of my stomach wasn’t quelling with time, so today I decided it was time to face the situation rather than hoping it’d somehow remedy itself.

The first issue I wanted to address was my desire to use these sweet potatoes for a side dish. Obviously using them straight out of the jar wasn’t going to work, so the only other option I could think of was to mash and bake them.  I opened another jar this afternoon, drained the liquid, mashed them, added some cayenne pepper and chili powder, and popped them in the oven.

The kitchen filled with the sweet smell of potato and 30 minutes later I opened the oven door to check on them.  Staring at the Corningware dish I knew immediately these were not going to be any better. Along the perimeter of the dish there was a distinct accumulation of liquid.  I tried pouring it off, only to lose a good portion of the potatoes in the sink.  They were runny.

Thinking that perhaps I could dry the potatoes out by cooking them longer and at a higher temperature, I increased the oven to 450 and let them cook another 30 minutes.  When I pulled them out of the oven the potatoes looked better, but when I served them, the runny potatoes flattened out on the plates.

Still, I wanted to believe that not all was lost.  I took a bite.  Gross!  These were even worse than the first batch I’d made.  They were tasteless, runny, and had absolutely no texture.

Hubby and Grace told me they didn’t think the first batch I’d made were that bad.  They just thought the texture was different but they could still eat them.  This second batch was not edible.

So what went wrong?  I raw packed them so it wasn’t that I over-cooked them prior to canning.  I used water, so perhaps a sugar syrup would not be absorbed as much.  What about the size I cut them?  The only guideline for cutting the sweet potatoes was to cut them so they fit in the jar.  I did cut them rather small, maybe if I cut them in bigger chunks they wouldn’t absorb as much water or syrup.

I hate this.  Here I thought I had all these wonderful jars of sweet potatoes for my family safely stored on the pantry shelf and it turns out I not only wasted all that money on the potatoes, but also my time and energy.  If I were a glass half-full type of person, I might consider this a good learning experience.  Today though I am a glass half-empty type and just want to cry.  I don’t accept failure well, especially when I don’t know why.

So what now?  Well, I spent the rest of the afternoon working on several recipes that called for sweet potato.  One was for sweet potato biscuits and the other for sweet potato bread.  Hubby is crazy for the biscuits and although the bread is okay, I’d definitely have to add some raisins and/or dried cranberries and possibly some frosting to improve on it.  Each of these recipes had to be tweaked because the sweet potato made the dough too wet, but the canned sweet potato did work.

Knowing these sweet potatoes can somehow be salvaged eases my disappointment, slightly.  I hadn’t canned them for this purpose, but at this point anything is better than nothing.  I have one more test I need to do with these potatoes before making up my mind if I will ever can sweet potatoes again — sweet potato pie.  This is one recipe I did plan on using the canned potatoes for. I am concerned about the water content in the potatoes, but am hopeful that with some tweaking and a little trial and error, it’ll work.

Life is certainly not perfect, but through the imperfections we learn and hopefully grow.  The trick to this is to not give up.  Lord knows I wanted to throw in the towel, but so far I keep banging my head against this brick wall, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Dehydrating Sweet Potatoes

After canning 21 quarts of sweet potatoes last week, I still had more than a dozen potatoes left.  It wasn’t enough to fill the canner so I decided to see if I could dehydrate them.

The process was fairly easy, and the yield for all those potatoes was only 2 quart jars, so it won’t take up much room on the pantry shelves.  I haven’t tried reconstituting them and using them yet, but they are ready to go whenever I am so inclined.

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The first step to dehydrating sweet potatoes is to peel the potatoes.  Be sure to keep them in cold water so they don’t brown.

Next, I sliced them to about 1/4 of an inch.  They weren’t perfect, but most of them were pretty uniform in thickness.  I’ve got a mandolin, but mine doesn’t allow me to choose how thick I want things sliced. That’s on my gadget wish list.

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While you are preparing the sweet potatoes, put a large pot of water on the stove and bring to a full boil. Once the potatoes are all sliced, dump them in the boiling water.  When the water returns to a full boil start timing.

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As far as how long to blanch the sweet potatoes, there were various suggestions on the internet and in my dehydrating books.  The range was from 2 to 4 minutes.  Being that my sweet potatoes were fairly thin, I went with 3 minutes.

When time is up, remove the sweet potatoes from the boiling water and immediately immerse in ice water.  Let them sit there for about 10 minutes, until completely cool.

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After they are cool, spread the sweet potatoes on dehydrating racks and run for 2 – 3 hours at 140 degrees.  Then reduce the temp to 130 and dehydrate until completely dry.  I let mine sit overnight.

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I was a little worried that these would brown or discolor as they dehydrated, but the blanching took care of that.

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I can’t wait to try using these in some candied sweet potatoes.  I fit all the potatoes, more than 12, in two quart jars and sealed them with my FoodSaver.  In order to reconstitute, put the desired amount in a large bowl, cover with boiling water, and let sit overnight.  It does take some pre-planning, but if these turn out as promised, I might be dehydrating more than I pressure can because they take up far less space.

There are so many options for preserving food and stocking the pantry shelves, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

First Canning Project of 2015 – Sweet Potatoes

Happiness is…being back in the kitchen canning!

Yesterday I finally got back to canning and boy did it feel great!  I pulled out the bags of sweet potatoes I’d picked up just after Thanksgiving for $0.28 a pound and found only one potato that had softened.  In all I had 36 pounds to work with.

The first 26 pounds of the potatoes, I decided to can raw in water.  This allows me to add sugar when I use them if I like or as we prefer in many cases, spicing them up with a bit of chili powder and cayenne pepper.

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I checked my canning books and the internet and most sources suggested boiling the potatoes first and then peeling. This seemed like it would take longer than just peeling them.  Plus, I didn’t want to really cook the potatoes at all if I could help it.  With the long processing time in the pressure canner, the less the potatoes are cooked, the less chance of them turning to mush in the jars.

I don’t mind peeling potatoes.  It took me about 20 minutes to peel each batch and with Grace’s help it went even faster.

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Once peeled, I cut the potatoes into cubes and put them in a pot of hot water on the stove.

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I turned the stove to low and let the potatoes sit there while I prepared the jars, pressure canner, lids, and water for canning.  By the time I was done, the potatoes were warm, not hot, but warm enough that they wouldn’t cause the jars to crack when put in the canner.

Next I packed the jars with the warm potatoes and put 1 teaspoon of canning salt in each quart jar,

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covered the potatoes with boiling water to within 1″ of the top,

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did my best to get out any air bubbles, placed a lid and band on the jar, and put the jar in the canner.

Quick and easy.  The longest part of this project was waiting for the canner.  It took about 40 – 60 minutes for it to reach pressure and then they process for 90 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure.  The last batch of three, is in the canner now and I am waiting for it to pressurize before I can start the timer.

Once the canner is done, I typically wait until the next day to open it, allowing it to completely cool before attempting to remove the lid or jars.  This morning I finished the second batch of potatoes and opened the canner just before loading it again this evening, and although the jars were still hot, the pressure canner was completely depressurized.

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Twenty-six pounds of sweet potatoes yielded me 21 quarts of canned sweet potatoes that I plan on using for sweet potato pie and other desserts as well as a side dish for dinners.  With the remaining potatoes I am going to try dehydrating some of them and possibly making sweet potato butter with the rest.

Getting back to canning was for some reason a relief for me.  With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, all the decorating, baking, entertaining, planning, shopping, and rushing around, to finally be able to settle down and do some canning felt like a vacation.

My first canning project of 2015 is a success with many more to come, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

2015 Canning To Do List

Now that the holidays have come to a close, I am anxious to get back to some canning.  Up until last winter I really didn’t know that there was canning beyond summer and fall.  Last winter however I canned many things and am ready to start my list of canning projects for the next couple of months.

The first thing on my to do list are sweet potatoes.  These were bought when I found them on sale for $.28 a pound at Thanksgiving.  I don’t have as many as I’d like, as we’ve been eating them, but I am excited to give these a try.  I want to use the canned sweet potato for pies as well as a side dish for pork or poultry.  Seeing as the pumpkin I canned last fall turned out so well, I am confident that these will turn out also.

Next, I have raspberries and blackberries in the freezer from last fall and definitely want to make some things with these.  Combining these with the cranberries I froze in November and December, I’m sure I can come up with some tasty syrups, sauces, and concentrates.

Mentioning cranberries, I made some plum-cranberry sauce last November to use on turkey burgers and it turned out perfect.  I am definitely going to make more of this.  I went to several grocery stores today to see if I could find a few more bags on clearance, but everything was gone.  I hope I bought enough to keep me happy until next November.

Sweet potatoes, raspberries, blackberries and cranberries should keep me busy for January.

Once I clear out some space in the overflowing freezers by using some of the berries that are frozen, I’d like to do something with white potatoes.  I found several recipes for canning potatoes that I want to try as well as methods for freezing and dehydrating.

White potatoes, as long as I can find a good deal on them, should keep me busy in February.

For March I plan on making more sauerkraut and canning cabbage in several other ways that I’ve wanted to try. Being that cabbage goes on sale for about $.14 a pound around St. Patrick’s Day, I will definitely be stocking up. Freezing, canning, and dehydrating are all on the agenda.

That’s it for the first quarter of 2015.  I have lots of jars itching to be filled in the garage and pantry shelves in the basement emptying, making space for new concoctions.

I should keep track of how many jars we go through a week.  Last week I counted only 6 jars on the counter that we’d emptied.  During the holidays though there were a few weeks that we went through more than a dozen or more.  At the end of the fall canning season October 2014 I had seven dozen jars of freshly canned food on the floor in the pantry because I didn’t have enough shelving.  Now the floor is clean and the shelves have gaps in them.

Already I’m having to ration the pickles I canned last summer.  With Grace going through a jar a week, we won’t make it till harvest time — thus why the pickle A-Frame is going to have a matching companion next year.  300+ pickles harvested for 2014 and going for 400 – 500 for 2015.  Keep your fingers crossed.

Holiday Season 2014 is over and a brand new 2015 is just beginning, full of potential and possibilities, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Taming The Jungle

This is what the back garden looked like just two weeks ago, August 26, 2014:

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Then we had a heat wave and I didn’t work in the garden other than to harvest.  I can’t take the heat and especially can’t take the humidity.

Here is what the garden looked like yesterday – September 7, 2014:

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The tomatoes grew to a point of bending or breaking their bamboo stakes and then the sweet potatoes grew right over them, nearly smothering them.

Note to self:  Don’t plant sweet potatoes around tomato plants for 2015 — they need their own garden, and a big one at that!

Seeing as the tomatoes were practically buried under the sweet potato vines, I had to do something.  I spent a couple of hours trimming the sweet potato vines and pruning and re-staking the tomato plants.  The tomato plants were so overgrown that I had to use shepherds hooks that Hubby cut down for me to hold the over flowing vines.  There were some plants that were more than five-feet tall.

This is what the pruned and trimmed garden looks like, September 8, 2014:

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I can actually see the dirt around the tomato plants now, not to mention I found a few plants that had been completely covered by the sweet potato vines that would have been lost forever had I not gotten in there to tame this nearly out-of-control jungle.

The hot and humid weather was great for the garden and gave it one last boost before the cooler weather of fall begins its reign, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

A Gardener’s Work Is Never Done

Your diamonds are not in far distant mountains or in yonder seas; they are in your own backyard, if you but dig for them. ~ Russel H. Conwell

The past couple of days have been full and busy. So much so that taking even a moment to sit down and write was impossible. Thankfully, it is Monday morning, the sky is cloudy and promising a much-needed rain and I am anxious to get back into the swing of blogging.

The garden is done! Actually, a garden is never truly “done” I’ve discovered, but at least I can say that it is planted. The new extension portion has three rows of beets, one row of carrots, and a third of it full of sweet potato plants.

Completed garden extension

Completed garden extension

I probably should have read on sweet potato plants before I planted them because in reading a bit I’ve found that they spread. Didn’t know that. I thought they would be like growing a russet or white potato and the main growth would be underground. Apparently they get vines and wherever the vines touch down, you can get more sweet potatoes. Hopefully things won’t get too out of control.

I’ve also learned that from one sweet potato plant, the main one, you can expect about 5 to 7 potatoes. With 18 plants, this would be a great yield. I could be set with sweet potatoes for a good portion of the winter. I’d like to try drying them and seeing how they are reconstituted, but when I’ve kept store-bought sweet potatoes in the basement, they’ve kept for more than three months without issue, so drying isn’t a necessity.

With some of the overflow top soil that was delivered for the garden extension, I filled six pots and planted beans, one long flower box and planted scallions, and six additional pots that will be used for tomato suckers.

Pots with beans planted in them.

Pots with beans planted in them.

Scallion planter

Scallion planter

I read that if you snap off the stems that form in the V’s of the tomato plant branches — called ‘suckers’ — and plant them, you will get another plant. There are several different ways to get them to grow and I am trying two of them. I stuck two of them directly in a pot with very moist soil and so far they are doing well and I have three suckers sitting a jar full of water until they form roots. I’ll see which method is more effective and then snap some suckers later in the season so I can have tomatoes possibly through October.

Tomato suckers in pot of top soil.

Tomato suckers in pot of top soil.

Tomato suckers in jar of water.

Tomato suckers in jar of water.

My slug traps are doing their job! The body count as of this morning is 11. I’m going to make one more trap for my last pepper plant even though it hasn’t been attacked yet. I figure it’s better to have it and not need it, than not have it and need it.

While spreading the last of the mulch around the old section of garden, I noticed that my Brussel sprouts had tiny holes all over the leaves. Great, another infestation. I was sort of hoping it was slugs, but upon further investigation it turns out that it’s cabbage worms. Back in the spring, when the grass was just beginning to get some color and the birds were frolicking once again in the trees, I remember being excited when I caught sight of the first cabbage butterfly of the season. Little did I know that they love to lay their eggs on Brussel sprouts, kale and broccoli, and guess what I planted this year in the garden? You guess it, Brussel sprouts, kale and broccoli. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any cabbage worm trap ideas on the Internet, so settled on an organic spray that should take care of the problem.

Cabbage worm damage on my brussle sprouts.

Cabbage worm damage on my brussel sprouts.

Gardening is far more complicated than I thought. I guess that’s probably why I’ve never been successful in the past. I never paid attention to the details. Just plant, water, and harvest was my understanding of gardening and when that didn’t work, I assumed it was just bad luck. Now that I’m paying more attention to the details, or at least a lot more than before, perhaps gardening success will be within my reach.

The weather all last week was perfect for working outside. Although I miss being in the kitchen and planning my next canning adventure, I am truly enjoying the fresh air and closeness I feel with the earth when in the garden. I did however take a few minutes in the kitchen to whip up a batch of one of the kids favorite summer beverages — 5-4-3-2-1 Citrusade. With the help of Zeb we whipped it out in less than 15 minutes then were able to enjoy tall glasses of it in between tasks.

5-4-3-2-1 Citrusade

5 Cups of water
4 Limes
3 Lemons
2 Oranges
1 Cup of sugar (you might want to use only 3/4 Cup depending on how sweet you like it)

Juice limes, lemons and oranges. Measure 1 cups of mixed citrus juice and add to 5 cups of water. Add sugar and stir or shake until dissolved. Serve over tall glasses of ice.

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With the garden planted, the waiting begins. Weeding, nurturing, watering, and feeding the garden will be a summer-long endeavor, but for now I think the heavy work is done. Now I can get back to all the wonderful tasks of being a wife, mother, and housewife and for this I am — Simply Grateful.