story by Alison Clare Steingold
photo by Dana Edmunds
At Kailua’s Thursday night farmer’s market, knobby, oblong sweet potatoes overflow from rickety farm crates, all begging to be taken to table. Lavender-fleshed Okinawans from small-scale producers appear one week, a red-skinned, deep purple variety from Moloka‘i on another. The flesh of these myriad tubers runs the Technicolor gamut—fire-orange as a North Shore sunset or butter-yellow as a plumeria blossom. They’re headed for tables in Alan Wong’s and Auntie’s Liliha house alike. In kitchens grand and humble, they’ll be baked and boiled in preparations sweet and savory.
Sure, the sweet potato has earned notoriety in culinary circles, but that’s only one side of its story. It might sound far-fetched to think of this staple as more than just a colorful Island treat, but it played a crucial role in Hawaiian history. The sweet potato is, in part, responsible for Hawai‘i as we know it today.