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Garnet -- Deep red or purple skin, moist orange flesh with medium-sized roots and short to long spindle. Best used in recipes that call for mashed or grated sweet potatoes such as pies, cakes and breads.

Jersey or Yellow Jersey -- This variety is an old-fashioned sweet potato with a golden yellow skin at harvest time which fades to buff or tan after storage. The flesh color ranges from creamy white to bright yellow with an occasional pink variegation. It has a dry, mealy flesh.

Jewel -- This variety is a 'yam-type' (moist, soft, yellow-fleshed when baked) with a light copper skin and orange flesh. It produces a very high yield (to 6 sweet potatoes per plant) of moderately short, chunky roots. The variety prefers a sandy soil and is resistant to fusarium wilt, southern rootknot nematode, internal cork and sweet potato beetle. It needs 120-135 days growing time for maximum yield.

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Because of their high sugar content, sweet potatoes don't keep very well, so store them in a cool, dark place - but not the refrigerator - and don't plan to keep them more than a week or two. They should be stored loose and not kept in a plastic bag.

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Origins and Culture

What most of us call 'yams' are actually sweet potatoes, a member of the morning glory family. True yams are seldom grown or eaten in North America. The confusion began in the 1930's, when Louisiana farmers chose the word 'yam' to set their product apart from the dry, pale sweet potatoes grown in the north of the US. The Southerners, by contrast, grew a sweet potato cultivar that produced a tuber with vivid orange flesh, a moist texture and a sweet taste.

Native to the new World, sweet potatoes traveled to the Old World before the potato itself. In another odd twist in history, Columbus introduced them to Europe with the name batata, a word taken from the native inhabitants he encountered in the Caribbean and South America. For some reason, when the tuber we now call potato came on the scene, it was given the same name, and the sweet potato varieties began to be distinguished from them, rather than vice versa. The word yam is an English adaptation of nyami, the Senegalese word for the large starchy African tuber. African yams are rather bland and dry, so they're often served with spicy sauces.

Sweet potatoes are native to Central America and are one of the oldest vegetables known to man. They have been consumed since prehistoric times, and sweet potato relics dating back 10,000 years have been found in Peruvian caves. As noted, Christopher Columbus brought sweet potatoes to Europe after his first voyage to the New World in 1492. From there, they spread around the world with astonishing speed. By the 16th century, they were brought to the Philippines by Spanish explorers and to Africa, India, Indonesia and southern Asia by the Portuguese.

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Nutritional and Medicinal Properties

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A. They are also a very good source of vitamin C and manganese. In addition, sweet potatoes are a good source of copper, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, potassium and iron.

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Basic Cooking Instructions

As the flesh of sweet potatoes will darken upon contact with the air, you should cook them immediately after peeling and/or cutting them. If this is not possible, to prevent oxidation, keep them in a bowl covered completely with water until you are ready to cook them. Sweet potatoes may be substituted for regular potatoes in almost any recipe. To peel a boiled sweet potato, just drain off the hot water and immediately submerge them in cold water. Remember that baked sweet potatoes are delicious even when served cold, and make a great food to pack in to-go lunches.

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