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Sweet Potato Ice Cream

Some time back I was bemoaning the lack of reasonably priced butternut squash at the height of the season in my local markets–I was clearly spoiled by last year’s bargains, or so I figured. So when I tried making pumpkin ravioli at home, I substituted yams, which were a lot more plentiful and much less expensive per pound.

But as it turns out, there’s more to the missing squash mystery than I realized. Just before Thanksgiving last year, Libby’s sent out a public warning that they were facing deep shortages due to heavy rains during harvest in central Illinois, where most of their pumpkins are grown. Heavy rains and soggy fields meant harvesters couldn’t get out every day to pick, and a lot of pumpkins mildewed on the vine and had to be plowed under. Oregon’s organic pumpkin growers, who had an unusually good crop, were able to  step in as an alternate source for buyers running short, but organic pumpkins are still only a few percent of the national consumption each year.

Following on a short crop in 2008, the Midwest is looking for a better harvest this fall, but right now the shortage is pretty noticeable on store shelves. A global produce outlook web site even posted a recent factoid that, at the moment, Libby’s remaining inventory of 100% packed pumpkin stands at something like six cans. Six.

According to the article, people have been bidding up to $30 a can on eBay for those extras you probably squirreled away in the corners of your pantry and never got around to making.

But it still doesn’t explain why winter squash was so scarce and expensive in California this past year–unless our supermarkets were importing all the way from Illinois as well. Hmmmph.

Where’s the Charlie Brown Theme Song when you really need it?

In any case, yams and sweet potatoes nearly the size of footballs have been pretty plentiful in Southern California, and cheap with it. There’s very little waste on a sweet potato–just the peel, usually (or buy organic, if you can find them, and scrub them well before cooking so you can eat the peel too).

So I’ve been finding a place in my refrigerator for them and microwaving them in a lidded pyrex bowl or casserole with a little water in the bottom for about 8-10 minutes (for a big one). Because I don’t like the prospect of nasty kitchen accidents, if I can’t cut into them easily right away I wait to split these monsters in halves or quarters about 6 minutes into the cooking time, when they may not be fully cooked yet but at least they no longer require an axe.

Sweet potatoes and yams substitute pretty well in standard pumpkin pie recipes, but you generally have to bake twice as long as for the canned pumpkin, which has had a lot of the water cooked out before it was packed. They also make  good fillings for large ravioli–pretty easy with wonton or gyoza wrappers, and microwaveable too.

But…it’s now June in Los Angeles, which means “June Gloom” overcast cool weather in the morning, burning off to the mid-90s by lunchtime. And my daughter looks at the huge quarters of yam cooling on the counter and says, suddenly, “I wish we could have pumpkin ice cream instead.” I think about it and decide I wish that too.

I have buttermilk, regular milk, sugar and a variety of pumpkin pie-type spices on hand. I don’t think I’ll need eggs because the sweet potato has so much fiber and starch it probably won’t freeze in big ice crystals, even by the still-freeze method.

Given the need to know carbs these days, I weigh out a quarter of the yam without its peel and figure the carb grams are something between 1/6 and 1/4 of the total mass–say about 1/5, or 40 grams carb for 200 grams of yam, which is what the quarter weighs.

The milks I can calculate carbs for easily enough from the label (12 g per cup). The sugar I decide to weigh out and adjust by taste, since sugar is pure carbohydrate. It turns out to be the main carb source at 3/4 c. or 150 g.  If you can tolerate Splenda or other artificial sweeteners, substituting them for the sugar would obviously cut down most of the carbs. Silken tofu or unsweetened soy or almond milk might cut another 20-30 g but might give it a dusty taste–lemon juice or rind might help with that.

The final carb count for the whole batch I divide by the total grams to figure out how much ice cream I can give my daughter for 15 grams of carb (the diabetic’s definition of “one serving”).

sweetpotatoicecream

Sweet potato ice cream, 105 grams or ~ 1/2 cup for 30 grams of carbohydrate (half of this scoop would be a single serving for diabetics)

50-55 grams of ice cream turns out not to be very much–less than 1/3 c.–but the flavor is more intense than commercial ice cream and so pumpkin-pieish that that’s really enough. Kind of like eating gelato, at least the real kind you get in Italy.  If only all our ice cream experiences could go so smoothly. If only I had bought that set of tiny gelato spoons in the open-air market back in Sicily, instead of the half-kilo of oil-cured olives that the wind had blown sand into…

Sweet Potato Ice Cream

This version came out just sweet enough and spicy without being bitter. The vanilla isn’t usual in pumpkin pie but enhances the sweetness with a moderate amount of sugar.

  • 200 g cooked peeled sweet potato or yam, figure 20% is carb or 40 g
  • 2 c buttermilk — 24 g
  • 1/2 c milk — 6 g
  • 3/4 c sugar — 150 g
  • 1/2 t ginger, cinnamon
  • 1/4 t clove
  • 1/8 t or just a grating of nutmeg
  • 1 t vanilla
  • (squeeze of lemon? grind of lemon rind? maybe next time)

Total carb: 220 g Total weight: about 750 g

50-55 g (about 1/4-1/3 c.) is 15 g carb

Blend all ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth. Ice cream maker method: Pour the mixture into the ice cream chamber on your machine and follow manufacturer’s instructions for churning before packing it into a freezer container.

Still-freeze method: Pour directly into freezer container, let freeze partway, stir in the frozen bits from the edge, freeze some more, stir again, etc. until it’s uniformly frozen. This method may result in a harder, less uniform texture than the churned method, so if you want to smooth it out after freezing, microwave 15 seconds to thaw just a little, break chunks into food processor or blender, and blend it just until everything’s smooth–it’ll probably be the texture of soft ice cream. Pour back into the freezer container and refreeze.

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