The Sweet Potato Project: Part 1

1203099820We at Chowder know firsthand the effects of climate on our appetites. All winter, I crave hearty roasts, butternut squash, and mac & cheese. (See also: my weird winter rum aversion.) That said, the “cold weather, warm food” principle only holds true to a point. Right now, it’s three degrees with wind chill. My eyelashes freeze when I walk outside. And I’m fantasizing about all things Hawaii (my parents live there, which means I get to visit on occasion): Palm fronds. Coconut suntan lotion. Purple sweet potatoes.

Yes, purple sweet potatoes. Also called Okinawan or Maui sweet potatoes, they’re native to Japan but grow everywhere in Hawaii, and they’re one of my fondest memories of the islands. Light-skinned like Yukon Golds, they have a lavender flesh that darkens to a deep purple when they’re cooked. Sometimes used in haupia (coconut) pie, they’re also delicious pureed—sweet, and starchy, neither mushy nor dry. Smooth as silk. In flavor and texture, they’re kind of like a cross between a sweet potato, a parsnip, and yucca root.

I’m not the only one who loves them. When I saw the purple spuds for sale at, food editor Amy Traverso, a Hawaii fan herself, offered to split a case with me. Alas, they were out of season, and out of stock. But a seed had been planted, and neither of us could shake the craving. Searching online, I turned up nothing but other frantic potato-hunters. One commenter on foodienyc found a California producer, Doreva Produce, willing to ship small quantities, but that seemed like a lot of work (and money). Especially when we know people.

So we made call. It went something like this:

“Hi, Mom? Can you do me a favor?”

Best call we’ve made all month. Stay tuned to Chowder for Part 2: The purple potatoes’ Boston debut.