1. 1.
    traveling from place to place, especially working or based in various places for relatively short periods.
    "the peripatetic nature of military life"
    synonyms:nomadic, itinerant, traveling, wandering, roving, roaming, migrant,migratory, unsettled
    "I could never get used to her peripatetic lifestyle"
  2. 2.
  1. 1.
    a person who travels from place to place.
  2. 2.
    an Aristotelian philosopher.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sweet Potatoes are Taking Over My Garden and My Thoughts--'Remember, Remember the Fifth of November'

Sometimes I wonder--and maybe you do too--if I tend a garden just so I can use it as an excuse to cultivate my convoluted trend of thought. The sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas, is a good case in point. A close cousin to the morning glory in the botanic family of Convolvulaceae, it has such interesting and varied ties to history, literature, and folklore that I couldn't wait to include it in my garden earlier this year. A lady waiting in line with me at the garden center where I purchased a six-pack of plants this past April warned me it might take over. She was right, but I'm not sorry. It has handily covered most of my barren plot of earth, not suitable for growing much of anything else I've planted, and I've already "robbed" the six original plants of their sweet tasting and nutritious roots. Next year, there will be even more, haha.

When I woke up this morning, I fully intended to write a post strictly about my sweet taters, concentrating on information about their nutritional value--they're packed with beta-carotene and potassium for starters--and maybe throw in a few ideas for preparation. Thanksgiving is on its way after all, and how dull would it be without a sweet potato casserole or mashed sweet taters to add some inexpensive color, flavor, and much-needed fiber to the traditional, weighs-heavy-on-the-stomach-and-budget feast? There would be yammering like nothing you've ever heard if I left these beauties off the menu. Or at least there should be.
 So, where did that simple post about nutrition and preparation go? By the wayside, as soon as I picked up one of my favorite early morning reads, Charles Spurgeon's Morning and Evening. It reminded me that today is the anniversary of the Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, celebrated as a national day of Thanksgiving in England--Guy Fawkes' Day in years past and more recently as Bonfire Night. Who? What? Guy Fawkes was a Catholic fellow who lived in the time of King James I, and he didn't like the way things were going with the Protestants in charge of everything. He was a key member of a plot to blow up Parliament using barrels of gunpowder strategically placed in the building's cellar. The plot was discovered in the nick of time--Spurgeon calls it a "great deliverance wrought by God for us." Fawkes did not meet with a happy ending, it seems. He leaped off the steps leading up to the gallows, breaking his neck and thereby preventing a slower, more painful death by hanging, drawing, and quartering. Terrorists were not afforded the luxury of mercy in days of old when knights were bold and a king's rule on earth was conflated with God's stature in heaven. It's a good thing for them that times and attitudes have changed.

Thank goodness for things that don't change, like sweet potatoes, among other things. According to this site that touts healthy foods, they've been cultivated and consumed since prehistoric times. They were introduced to North America, the West Indies, and eventually Europe by those forward-thinking Spaniards who discovered them on their gold-seeking forays into Peru and Ecuador. The Spaniards didn't like them much at first, but other Europeans soon found good uses for them. It seems that some health practitioners decided that they were aphrodisiac, and word got around quickly, as it usually does where sex is concerned. It must have been common knowledge by William Shakespeare's time. Some of his contemporaries called it the "venereous root." Shakespeare even gave the taters some notice, complete with severe-weather idioms. What better way to emphasize the climacteric plight of middle-aged men and women and their often tempestuous rage against age--and each other--in his comedic play The Merry Wives of Windsor?(Shakespeare was a player, all right--with words, of course):

Let the sky rain potatoes; let it thunder to the tune of "Greensleeves," hail kissing-comfits, and snow eringoes... (Falstaff in a nighttime tryst with a married woman who plays a trick on him, Act 5, Scene 5, lines 18-20.)
As much as I'd like to say that sweet potatoes were a regular part of King James' diet, lusty ruler that he was, I find no evidence to support that idea. I can say they will be a regular part of my family's garden and diet, now that I've discovered what a useful and interesting veggie they truly are.


  1. I'm a big fan of sweet potatoes, especially sweet potato fries.

  2. I am interested to know what one plant can produce??? You ate the original 6 roots, but does each plant make more? I have not grown them, or any type of potato before!
    A fellow blogger has shown how she cuts off the top of a SP and sets it in shallow dish of water and it sprouts leaves....I am wondering if I planted somethign like that, what would happen, if anything??? Am I real stupid???
    Loved this entire post!!!

  3. the first year we lived in this house, many more years ago than I care to remember, we had a supremely ugly fence in the back yard and no real means of doing much about it... so I let a sweet potato root in the kitchen and vined the plants over it... They went rampant! The lush growth was amazing, and the purple blooms attracted hummingbirds. Never grew them since, but I've been thinking about it...

  4. Anytime I can get up early in the morning and read see the words "sweet potato, Guy Fawkes, climacteric and conflated" all in one history and humor-laden post, I just know it's going to be a good day. Our gardener friend, Harold, brought us some little sweet potatoes from his garden the other day. I just might have one sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar for breakfast.

  5. Dear Walk2Write,
    to think that I have never eaten sweet potatoes in all my life! Now, after your post, I'll be on the look-out for them (they look different from African batate). I only know 'sweet' potatoes when 'normal' potatoes got frost...
    But I will try your vatiation (if I find them)

  6. TFB, I like those fries too, but I don't like to fix them myself unless I'm cooking outside.

    Julie, I guess the yield varies by growing conditions and cultivar. Mine is 'Beauregard.' Sounds like a good Southern name, doesn't it? Yes, the plants produce repeatedly, and they spread by runners which root themselves. You can take a cutting from a healthy plant and also root it that way. They're about the easiest plant to grow in lean soil. It's a shame I held out so long on growing them.

    Claude, I say go for it! What can you lose except maybe some space for growing anything else? This past summer was a good test for them in my garden. They passed the heat and overall neglect to make an "A" in my book.

    Beth, you gave me a good chuckle too when I read your comment. Glad I could brighten your morning. If those potatoes have been sitting around for a few days, you probably won't need to add any sugar because they've cured, and the starch has converted. That's the whitish substance you see on one of them in the pic where they're still sitting in the dirt.

    Britta, you're in for a treat if you can find them fresh and not canned. I was surprised to find out that they were available in England during Shakespeare's time, but I guess the trade in tropical/exotic foods was fairly brisk even then.

  7. Thanks for the info! I'm gonna try it!!!

  8. And I'll be adding them to my Thanksgiving menu too! It is not something we eat each year but do love when we do.

  9. I always learn something new when I visit here, W2W! I had no idea there was a reference to sweet potatoes in Shakespeare.

    I never liked sweet potatoes growing up, but thankfully my tastes have changed. My sweet potato casserole is a favorite at Thanksgiving, though with all the butter, sugar, and marshmallows in it, I'm not sure how healthy it is:)

  10. You're welcome, Julie! Good luck with the rooting.

    Tina, T-day is sneaking up on us. I'm hoping I'll have some collard greens to fix along with the sweet potatoes. It'll be a thoroughly Southern meal then.

    Rose, I wasn't all that crazy about them either until I started trying the real taters instead of the canned version. I found the reference to Shakespeare's mention of them during a search on the subject and then confirmed it in my copy of Bevington's The Complete Works of Shakespeare.

    Kochuravi, welcome to the blog, and thanks for the kind words.

  11. Luckily, it seems that you successfully recovered the track of your garden affairs..good to see you back with the past glory, especially with the history of potato and tubers..

  12. Tomz, it's true that the garden keeps me centered or on "track," as you put it. With the sweet potato vines, though, I may be developing a one-track mind, at least where the veggies are grown. Thanks for the encouragement to keep gardening.

  13. Interesting facts, and I enjoyed the Shakespeare tie in. I love sweet potatoes but no one else in my family does. When living in England it always struck me as strange to celebrate a foiled act of terrorism.

  14. Potatoes are so popular in Belgium. They were shocked when I told them they were introduced from the Americas. One of my favorite delicacies was sweet potato fries.

  15. Yes! I love sweet potatoes especially in that Thankgiving turkey dinner. This in spite of their vague color resemblence to that most hated of my vegetative disaffections - rutabagas. :)

  16. I love SP, but never tried growing them. Perhaps this spring! Thanks for the interesting info, Ingrid! You always know how to spice up a post. ~karen

  17. You know me, Sarah. Shakespeare in some form or other is never far from hand or thought. The English do have strange traditions. Recent news of fascination with Royal wedding plans makes me wonder even more.

    Potatoes are a hit in Germany too, Mr. S, though I don't think I ever saw sweet potatoes being served there. Sweet tater fries are indeed a treat.

    TB, I have to agree with you about rutabagas. I'll try anything once, and once was enough for that veggie.

    Karen, you're welcome. I'm not sure that SPs would grow that far north, or at least not long enough to give you something to eat. They require fairly warm soil temps to produce those bulbous roots.