I’ve always had a weird relationship with sweet potatoes. I grew up with parents who loved them baked with a little butter on them, but I never was able to cozy up to the simple baked version of the treat. However, I never met a sweet potato pie that I didn’t like and my grandma used to make an awesome sweet potato souffle with pecans and marshmallow topping. As I’ve grown older, I’ve found that I also enjoy french fried sweet potatoes, which I guess just confirms all of the stereotypes of Mississippians liking anything fried.
When a good friend heard about this website, she immediately suggested that I post an article about Vardaman and by extension sweet potatoes. After doing a little bit of research, I discovered she had offered up a perfect idea for MadeInMississippi.us!
I guess the place to start is with some basics about Vardaman which is located in eastern Calhoun County, Mississippi and has a population of less than 1,500 people and a boatload of taters.
According to Wikipedia, Vardaman was named for Mississippi governor and U.S. Senator James Kimble Vardaman. The town is located in one of Mississippi’s top five sweet potato-producing counties. The Vardaman Sweet Potato Festival, also known as the National Sweet Potato Festival, is held there annually the entire first week in November.
According to the Mississippi Sweet Potato Council:
“Vardaman’s history as a sweet potato growing area began in 1915 when a few farm families moved to the area from Martin, Tennessee. The newcomers brought with them the beginnings of the Vardaman, Mississippi sweet potato industry. Their knowledge coupled with the county’s quality soil and climate led to the production of the world’s finest sweet potatoes. Fourth and fifth generation growers from those original farm families, along with others, make up the majority of the sweet potato grower families farming near the town of Vardaman today.
The specialty bakery in Vardaman, Sweet Potato Sweets, uses only local Vardaman Sweet Potatoes. The bakery ships its delicious products nationwide daily. Sweet potato production remains a mainstay in the Vardaman, MS area. The economic impact of the sweet potato industry as a whole has put Vardaman, MS on the map. The impact of the sweet potato industry helps keep agriculture the Number 1 industry in Calhoun County, MS. Vardaman sweet potatoes find their way to Atlanta and up the eastern seaboard, to Texas and up to Colorado and Idaho, down to Florida and all across the USA and Europe.
According to their website:
The Mississippi Sweet Potato Council was founded in 1964 to promote Mississippi Sweet Potatoes and to educate growers on the latest practices to improve their product and their livelihood. It is one of the oldest agricultural organizations of its kind in the State of Mississippi and today has about 150 members. The members of the Mississippi Sweet Potato Council represent 105 farms and 26 packing facilities. Many of these growers are members of families who have been involved in growing Sweet Potatoes for four to five generations.
The sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) is a dicotyledonous plant that belongs to the family Convolvulaceae. Its large, starchy, sweet-tasting, tuberous roots are a root vegetable. The young leaves and shoots are sometimes eaten as greens. Ipomoea batatas is native to the tropical regions in America. Of the approximately 50 genera and more than 1,000 species of Convolvulaceae, I. batatas is the only crop plant of major importance some others are used locally, but many are poisonous. The sweet potato is only distantly related to the potato (Solanum tuberosum) and does not belong to the nightshade family.
The genus Ipomoea that contains the sweet potato also includes several garden flowers called morning glories, though that term is not usually extended to Ipomoea batatas. Some cultivars of Ipomoea batatas are grown as ornamental plants; the name “tuberous morning glory” may be used in a horticultural context.
The origin and domestication of sweet potato is thought to be in either Central America or South America. In Central America, sweet potatoes were domesticated at least 5,000 years ago. In South America, Peruvian sweet potato remnants dating as far back as 8000 BC have been found.
It would be appropriate at this time, to end this article with a link to a recipe. I’ve found one that sounds fabulous and is presented by someone who is passionate about this pie! Feel free to post your favorite sweet potato recipes in the comments below!
Found a recipe for whipped sweet potato casserole that you might like too:[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DofRSiYDr9g[/youtube]