‘The Southern Harvest Cookbook’ + Sneak Peek Recipes

By Cathy Cleary, cookbook author and CFSA member

Editor’s Note:

The Southern Harvest Cookbook is a new cookbook written by CFSA member, Cathy Cleary which features seasonal and regional recipes, stories, plus interviews with some of North Carolina’s famed Chefs Vivian Howard, John Fleer (Rhubarb), and Andrea Reusing (Cooking in the Moment), and includes the brilliant photography of Katherine Brooks.
Fifty-percent of the proceeds from sales of the cookbook will go toward food justice causes and sustainable agricultural initiatives. CFSA is one of the causes that Cathy selected, and we are feeling utterly grateful for her generosity.
Cathy wanted to give fellow CFSA members a sneak peek, so below she shares an article and two recipes Chocolate-Ginger Sweet Potato Pie and Whiskey-Braised Sweet Potatoes from her book, The Southern Harvest Cookbook.
All photos by Cathy Cleary, unless otherwise noted.

Sweet Potatoes by Cathy Cleary

The Sweet Potato Underground

I wonder how many of us grew up thinking sweet potatoes could only be served mixed with loads of brown sugar or dripping with toasted marshmallows. I personally did not wake from this sweet potato sugar coma until age 21 when a companion convinced me to try them roasted in their skins and adorned with nothing but butter. I fell in love with both the companion and the orange-fleshed tuber.

Fortunately for me, this humble root grows well in North Carolina, which produces more sweet potatoes than any other state in the US according to the USDA. Joe Evans, owner of Paper Crane Farm explains,


“Sweet potatoes definitely grow well here in the mountains around Asheville. I’d say our main challenge compared to the piedmont is the cold. Sweet potatoes are a long season crop that take anywhere from 90-120 days to reach maturity. Our growing season is shorter here than in other parts of the state.”


Sweet potatoes don’t grow from seeds. They are one of those fascinating regenerative vegetables. Plant a sweet potato and it will grow baby sweet potatoes. Onions, ginger, turmeric, cassava, and so-called “Irish” potatoes all fall into this crazy category.

In order to get a jump on the long growing season most farmers plant “slips” — leafy green sprouts grown out of a mature potato. They purchase the slips or grow them in a greenhouse until there is no danger of frost in the spring, then plant them in outdoor fields.

Young plants need lots of water, but once those slips take hold miraculous things happen. Vigorous vines take over entire fields, or in my case entire front yards.  All summer long, as people walk past our house, they ask what vine is taking over the sidewalk. When savvy gardeners walk by, they ask what varieties of sweet potatoes we grow.

Those leafy vines are great conversation starters, good ground cover, and the leaves themselves are incredibly delicious. I like to season them with smoked paprika, dry them in the oven and eat them like crunchy kale chips.

Chrisan Klak, co-owner of Blue Meadow Farms in Hendersonville grew up eating taro leaves, and sweet potato leaves are a good stand-in. “I’m Filipino and we use them in Philippino culture and Asian culture. Usually, a lot of the recipes that I follow for sweet potato greens are using taro leaves, but they have a similar texture and flavor so I just use them in lieu of taro leaves.”

We don’t grow taro leaves in these parts, but nutrition consultant Katherine Wilson explains,


“Sweet potato greens can be cooked in the same way as spinach, chard, and other leafy greens, and they may contain more nutrients than spinach.”


In the fall, leaf covered vines get cut all the way back and roots should be harvested before first frost. Annie Louise Perkinson, co-owner of Flying Cloud Farm told me “Frost can ruin them, but also we don’t want them to get too big because people don’t want to buy a six-pound sweet potato.”

I can speak from experience when I say cooking a six-pound sweet potato takes some time. I almost always end up with something roughly the size and shape of a football when I harvest. After showing it off for several days, I light up the wood-fired oven, have a pizza party and as the oven cools down overnight, the enormous sweet potato football bakes. In the morning, warm tender sweet flesh is ready to eat with butter or sorghum whipped cream for breakfast.

Perkinson agrees with me that roasting is one of the best ways to cook these sweet miracles. “I love leftovers because you can do anything with them, put them in soups, stews, quesadillas or pie.”

Their versatility may be obvious, but when those marshmallow topped, brown sugar baked casseroles come out of the oven we rarely think about nutrition. Wilson says,


“Actually sweet potatoes are packed with nutrients, they help boost immune function, eye health, cell growth, blood sugar regulation, and are a great addition to an anti-inflammatory diet.”


She contends they are best without added sugar.

As if versatility and nutrient density were not enough, the variations in color shape and size are almost endless. This year I grew round yellow fleshed Painters, orange oblong Beauregard’s, and lanky white Nancy Hall’s. Cut up and roasted all together, they hardly look like the same vegetable.

The sweet potato edition of Crop Stories, a “Zine” edited by André Joseph Gallant, describes varieties of purple-fleshed Okinawan, dark red Georgia Jets and bright gold skinned Vardaman sweet potatoes.  This informative journal combines planting, growing, and management information as well as essays devoted to conditions for immigrant laborers working in sweet potato fields, stories of passionate farmers, and intriguing recipes like Sweet Potato Adult Milkshake.

I may make adult milkshakes a new household tradition. They should work well alongside my other traditions; Whiskey Braised Sweet Potatoes and Chocolate Ginger Sweet Potato Pie listed below.

Cathy Cleary's Chocolate-Ginger Sweet Potato Pie, by Katherine Brooks

Chocolate-Ginger Sweet Potato Pie

Recipe from The Southern Harvest Cookbook by Cathy Cleary
Photo by Katherine Brooks
Serves: 8


4 tablespoons butter
¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips
1¼ cup graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon powdered ginger


2 cups baked, peeled and mashed sweet potato
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup half and half
2 eggs
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup chopped crystallized ginger


3 tablespoons half and half
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
¼ cup chopped crystallized ginger


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. For the crust, melt butter in microwave or saucepan. Add chocolate chips and continue to melt stirring until smooth. Combine with remaining crust ingredients and press into a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan.

For the filling, combine all ingredients in a bowl or electric mixer and mix well. Pour filling into crust and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The filling will be starting to brown on edges and will puff slightly in the center.

Meanwhile, heat half and half for the topping in microwave or saucepan. Add chocolate chips and continue to melt, stirring until smooth (Note: when melting chocolate be sure to only use completely dry utensils—water causes chocolate to seize up).

Sprinkle pie with ginger and drizzle with chocolate sauce. Allow to cool at least 15 minutes before serving.


Cathy Cleary's Whiskey Braised Sweet Potatoes

Whiskey-Braised Sweet Potatoes

Recipe from The Southern Harvest Cookbook by Cathy Cleary
Serves: 8


¼ cup plus 2–3 tablespoons whiskey or bourbon, divided
1½ cups water
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon chipotle pepper puree (optional)
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 cups (2 pounds) peeled and cubed (1-inch) sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ cup toasted pecans (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. For the crust, melt butter in microwave or saucepan. Add chocolate chips and continue to melt stirring until smooth. Combine with remaining crust

In a wide-bottomed sauce pot combine ¼ cup whiskey, water, butter, brown sugar, salt, chipotle and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer and add sweet potatoes. Spread potatoes so that they are all at least partially submerged in liquid. Cook uncovered at a low simmer for about 20 minutes. Test a potato to make sure they are cooked through. If they need additional cooking time, cover and simmer 5–10 additional minutes.

Mix 2 tablespoons of whiskey with cornstarch, add to simmering sweet potatoes and stir until thickened. Taste and add additional 1 tablespoon of whiskey, to taste. Sprinkle with toasted pecans before serving.


About The Book
The southern garden produces delights in all four seasons, from asparagus to tomatoes, apples to collard greens. Make use of the bounty of your garden or farmers’ market with new twists on familiar favorites. Recipes for Apple Radish Salad and Bacon Apple Burgers break up a fall parade of crisps and crumbles. Instead of roasting, make Whiskey Braised Sweet Potatoes (recipe above) or Sweet Potato Peanut Stew and add greens to Shrimp and Grits. Recipes for preserving herbs, pickling peaches and berry jams mean that your harvest will never go to waste. Let experienced gardener and cook Cathy Cleary walk you through four seasons of fresh, flavorful cooking.


About The Author
Cathy Cleary began cooking and baking at the ripe age of four. In 2000, she opened the West End Bakery Café in West Asheville, which quickly became an iconic eatery, and in 2014 published The West End Bakery and Café Cookbook to satisfy requests to share her recipes. Cathy and her husband own a small farm outside Asheville where they grow as much food as possible. Cathy is a contributor to the Carolina Table: North Carolina Writers on Food, and her website includes a blog of stories about her adventures in the kitchen and garden.

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