“Sweets” are more used in the traditional cooking of the Southern United States. Northern states favor white potatoes. Therefore, old Southern cookbooks would seem a likely place to find good recipes using the sweet potato and in this regard books from the Antebellum South don’t disappoint. They will tell you how to bake, boil, roast, candy and turn the sweet potato into pies. They will also tell you about the cooks of that day who were credited with being the most accomplished and skilled in the South. Some of them will never be known by name, for they were slaves who, after the War, left the places of their servitude to take up new lives elsewhere.
But a few are not anonymous. Rufus Estes is one of them and he speaks for himself in his introduction to the cookbook he published in 1911: Good Things to Eat as Suggested by Rufus:
“I was born in Murray County, Tennessee, in 1857, a slave. I was given the name of my master, D.J. Estes, who owned my mother’s family consisting of seven boys and two girls, I being the youngest of the family.
After the war broke out all the male slaves in the neighborhood for miles around ran off and joined the “Yankees.” This left us little folks to bear the burdens…In 1867 my mother moved to Nashville, Tennessee…”
At the age of 16, Mr. Estes got a job in a Nashville restaurant. Eventually, he became a successful chef. “One of the pleasures in life to the normal man is good eating,” wrote Mr. Estes, “And if it be true that real happiness consists in making others happy, then the author [that is, Mr. Estes] can at least feel a sense of gratification in the thought that his attempts to satisfy the cravings of the inner man have not been wholly unappreciated by the many that he has had the pleasure of serving.” Mr. Estes was a modest man. His career and the quality of his book suggest that he was very much appreciated.
What became of the skilled cooks, so highly praised in the cookbooks of those days–though not by name? Their stories aren’t told in the pages of these old volumes. But those who admired their skill and attempted to recreate their methods from memory in books like Cooking in Old Creole Days (1904) or Dishes and Beverages from the Old South (1913) are proof that they were well-remembered in the hearts and minds of many who sat at the tables over which they presided…and also, like Mr. Estes, were much appreciated.
Purée of Carrots, Sweet Potato, Fresh Ginger and Clementine (for 8 people)
Note: To print this recipe, or any other diplomatickitchen recipe, go to the bottom of the page, at the end of the post, and click on the icon: Print & PDF
- 2 pounds of Carrots, peeled and cut into rounds
- 1 pound of orange Sweet Potatoes, roasted at 400 F until they are tender, cooled, and the orange flesh removed with a spoon to a bowl. One hour is a good estimate for the roasting time, but size determines how long it will take the potatoes to bake….
- or 2 15-ounce sized cans of Sweet Potato Purée, drained for 1 hour in a sieve lined with Cheesecloth. Canned Sweet Potato Purée is not as dry as the roasted flesh of fresh Sweet Potatoes, but it is very good if fresh orange potatoes aren’t available.
- 1/3 cup of fresh Clementine Juice
- 1 and 1/2 Tablespoons of fresh Ginger, peeled and minced
- 1 Tablespoon of grated Orange Peel
- 1 Tablespoon of fresh Lemon Juice
- 1 teaspoon of Tabasco, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon of Sugar
- 8 Tablespoons (1 stick) of Butter, cut in pieces and preferably at room temperature
- freshly ground Black Pepper and Salt
- an optional Garnish: Green Onion Curls, described here in a previous diplomatickitchen post
- a Pot for boiling the carrots
- a Colander for draining the carrots
- a Food Processor or Blender
- a small, heavy-bottomed Saucepan
- a Sieve and Cheesecloth for draining the canned sweet potatoes, if you are using them instead of fresh ones
- a Double Boiler or a homemade Bain-Marie as described here in a previous diplomatickitchen post
1. If you are using fresh sweet potatoes, roast them at 400 F. until they are tender, cool them, cut them in half and scrape out the flesh into a bowl and set it aside. Discard the shells. To use canned purée, drain it for an hour in a sieve lined with cheesecloth. It is not as dry as fresh roasted sweet potato. The diplomatickitchen doesn’t recommend squeezing the purée inside the cheesecloth to extract the last bit of liquid…This can be an unfortunate experience.
3. In the small saucepan, combine the orange juice, butter, ginger and orange peel and heat them over medium heat, stirring, until the butter melts. Add the lemon juice, the sugar and the Tabasco.
4. Put half the carrots in the food processor with half the spiced juice and butter mixture and process it until it is very smooth. Transfer it to a bowl. Add the rest of the carrots, juice and melted butter to the processor and mix again. Add the roasted sweet potato flesh (or drained canned purée) to the second half of the purée in the processor and process once more until the mixture is smooth. Add it to the bowl, as well.
5. Taste the finished purée and season it with fresh ground black pepper and salt. The purée may be made a day ahead, cooled, covered and refrigerated.
6. Reheat the purée in the top of a double boiler or homemade bain-marie. Once it is warm, taste it again and add a little more sugar or Tabasco if you like.
7. Divide the mixture among plates and sprinkle them, perhaps, with Green Onion Curls.
A Note: Purée of Carrots, Sweet Potato, Fresh Ginger and Clementine accompanies the Main Course in Dinner in Early Spring, which is….a Dinner Menu. Besides the fact that it tastes good, the purée has another feature to recommend it for dinner parties: it may be made a day ahead and reheated and its flavour actually intensifies, given a day to develop.
A Second Note: The cookbooks mentioned in the introduction to the recipe are all available to read online in Michigan State University’s digital collection: Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project. The Transcript Versions of the cookbooks can be accessed very quickly even in parts of the world where the internet connection is slow.
© Elizabeth Laeuchli, the diplomatickitchen, 2011-2012