Fremont County, Iowa

Sweet Potatoe Vine

By Sherry Perkins

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of March 5, 2012

Remember how your grandmother always had a very green vine in her window during the winter months? Remember how good it made you feel to see some green amidst the bleak, cloudy days and snowy landscape?

In my grandma's house, it was a ritual that occurred every January for over fifty years. The process began simply with going to the cave to sort through the bucket of last fall's sweet potatoes. She would pick out the one brightest in color and uniform in size. She wanted one that would fit into a pint canning jar with just a few inches of potato peeking above the rim. Once she washed it and determined it had several eyes that could sprout, she would stick toothpicks around the top of it where they could rest on the rim of the jar and hold the potato in an upright position. The next step was to fill with luke-warm water and place the jar into a dark, warm closet.

Grandma's favorite place was in the kitchen closet where the hot water heater was. After about a week, she would check the jar to see if there were any roots coming from the sweet potato. These little lace-like, white roots, eventually would fill up the jar. Those roots always reminded me of spider webs.

Once the roots were showing themselves, she moved the sweet potato with jar to it's throne on the ledge of the window in her bright, sunny kitchen. Before long there would be little pinkish, greenish sprouts popping up on the potato that was above the jar rim. Daily we would watch these sprouts as they grew into leaves which in turn grew into a beautiful vine--a magical thing to watch as it curled up and around the window. The roots kept growing also and had to be fed water every so often to keep the project alive.

As spring planting drew near and the sprouts grew bigger, Grandma would break them off and stick each sprout into another jar of water where it would in turn take root. This would happen many times throughout February and March so that by the time the garden soil was warm enough to plant, she would have several dozen sweet potato plants destined to be in the good Iowa dirt when spring signaled that it was planting time. If Grandma ended up with more sweet potato plants than she could use, she shared with a neighbor, a friend or relative.

So, this one lone sweet potato did more than provide food in the fall. It's bright, green vines brought enjoyment to all who entered Grandma's kitchen and reminded her that there is a season for ail things.

Once in a while in today's world, you can buy a sweet potato from the grocery store and it may begin to sprout if it has not been treated with chemicals to keep it from sprouting. When I can, I save one from our garden and get it to root and sprout so I will have new plants when spring arrives. it makes me feel close to my grandmother who is no longer with us. When I see the tiny, !ace-like threads weaving their way through my Mason jar, I know that life goes on and spring will come in due time.

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Page updated on May 10, 2017 by Karyn Techau