Bryant Terry’s latest book, Black Food, released under his own 4 Color Books banner, features the sweet potato as a transportive ingredient. (See our recent interview for more information on some exciting things in the pipeline.) While flipping through the book, one of the first pieces of writing I came across was a brief essay by rocket scientist and whole-hog pitmaster Howard Conyers.
He narrates the storey of an heirloom sweet potato, which he describes as “the tastiest potato I have ever tasted,” and the measures his father took to nurture and age the tuber as if it were an expensive rib eye. The harvest culminated in a tray of potatoes roasted in the bright flames of a barbeque pit, served simply (only fire, potato, salt) and abundantly—three to four pounds at a time. To say I wanted my own plate of sweet potatoes after reading these words is an understatement. The next day, A picked up a clutch at a nearby farmers market. Plans were devised.
This isn’t the sweet potato’s only appearance in the novel. In Chef Kia Damon’s contribution to Black Food, home cooks cut stone-ground white grits with the flesh of roasted sweet potatoes, increasing the custardiness. Lani Halliday of Brooklyn’s famous Brutus Bakeshop created a “pink and gold” biscuit threaded throughout with sweet potato to pay homage to NYC’s famed black and white cookies. “The sweet potato’s importance in the food and history of Black people in the region cannot be emphasised,” she remarks, echoing a theme that runs throughout the book.
However, Betty Vandy’s dish and remark on stewed sweet potato leaves is my favourite sweet potato discovery from reading Black Food. The roughage is common in Sierra Leone, where the leaves are served as a stewy plas and are “as African as you can get.” Vandy’s method for cooking the leaves with okra, eggplant, and butter beans lead me down a rabbit hole of YouTube cooking videos. With America’s big sweet potato holiday quickly coming, it’s clear that it’s time to get out the marshmallows, hunt down the greens, and think a little bit more about how sweet potatoes may be honoured in so many different ways.