SWEET POTATO PASSION
Gordie Cartwright has earned a slice of national fame - a cornbread slice that is.
The 10-year-old Alabama 4-H'er won this spring's 2010 4-H Cornbread Cook-Off, a competition that is part of the National Cornbread Festival in South Pittsburgh, Tenn. For Cartwright, from the small town of Gantt near Andalusia, it was the first big contest he ever entered, and as a first-year 4-H'er, he set his sights high.
He created his winning recipe, sweet potato cornbread, after watching his mom eat a sweet potato. "I'd never made cornbread before, but I got to thinking about it and thought I'd give it a try," he said.
"The first couple of times, it didn't taste right, but we worked on it and came up with a recipe we liked," added Cartwright, who is president of his 4-H club.
Cartwright learned about the contest from 4-H Agent Assistant Tanya Bales, who leads clubs of fourth-graders at Straughn Elementary School. Bales told the youngsters about the national contest and worked with them on the specific rules of the competition. "The rules are strict, and Gordie did a good job doing exactly as instructed," she said.
Only 10 finalists were selected nationally from about 200 who submitted recipes in the annual 4-H cook-off, open only to fourth-graders. "The national cornbread committee, which consists of cornbread and cooking professionals, as well as Tennessee state 4-H staff, judges the recipes and narrows them down to the top 10," Bales said.
Once selected, Cartwright, Bales and others worked to raise money for him to attend the contest in Tennessee. To help pay for the trip, Gordie, Bales and others spent several Saturdays at the Tractor Supply Company store in Andalusia raising money, offering slices of his cornbread for a donation.
Once there, Cartwright and the other contestants had to cook in front of the judges as well as talk to them about his recipe. "I wasn't too nervous when I was cooking," he said. "But the judges came up to my table, and I had to tell them what I was doing and mainly why my recipe was original."
For his efforts, Cartwright won a $400 cash prize and a gift bag filled with Lodge cast iron and Martha White products.
Cartwright has become a local celebrity - the Covington County Commission has honored him, and plans are being made for other recognitions in the community.
The Cartwright family has an interest in cooking. Parents Rick and Christy previously owned a restaurant and still cater occasionally. "I saw my mom and dad cooking and liked it, and they would let me help sometimes," he said.
Cartwright is not old enough for statewide competition, but he's looking forward to state 4-H Competitive Events Day in the future.
In the meantime, you can find Gordie's Sweet Potato Cornbread below, followed by several other recipes from the United States Sweet Potato Council.
GORDIE CARTWRIGHT'S SWEET POTATO CORNBREAD
1 (7-ounce) package Martha White Sweet Yellow Cornbread Mix
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
1 cup mashed cooked (in microwave) sweet potatoes
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
1 large egg
1 pinch nutmeg
Mix all ingredients in order. Pour into a greased cast iron skillet, and bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until done (light brown).
SWEET POTATO PARTY PUNCH
1 quart cooked sweet potatoes, pureed
2 quart orange sherbet
2 quart cold ginger ale
1 (46-ounce) can apricot nectar
1 (46-ounce) pineapple juice
1 (16-ounce) 7-Up
Combine sweet potato puree and apricot nectar, mixing well. Chill everything. Just before serving, combine sherbet, sweet potatoes and apricot nectar mixture in punch bowl. Gently stir in other ingredients. Makes 2 gallons.
SWEET POTATO CHEESE BALL DIP
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 cups cold mashed sweet potatoes
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped jalapeno pepper
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Louisiana hot sauce
1/2 to 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1/4 cup chopped pecans
Assorted crackers, breadsticks or raw vegetables
In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and sweet potatoes until smooth. Add the next seven ingredients; mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or until firm. Roll in chopped pecans (optional). Serve with crackers, breadsticks or vegetables. Makes about 3 cups.
Note: When cutting or seeding hot peppers, use rubber or plastic gloves to protect your hands. Avoid touching your face.
GARLIC MASHED SWEET POTATOES
2 pounds fresh sweet potatoes quartered
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Cook unpeeled sweet potatoes, covered, in boiling salted water, 20 to 30 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, sauté garlic in 1 tablespoon butter for 2 minutes. When potatoes are fully cooked, drain thoroughly. Peel and dice and return to pan. Add sautéed garlic, remaining butter, sour cream and salt. Mash thoroughly. Fold in cilantro. Transfer to serving bowl and garnish with additional cilantro, if desired. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
SWEET POTATO PINWHEELS
4 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
4 cups sugar, divided
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 cups chopped nuts
1 cup shortening
3 eggs, well beaten
4 cups self-rising flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Yellow and red food coloring (optional)
In saucepan, combine sweet potatoes, 2 cups sugar and spice, mix well. Cook over low heat until thick, about 10 minutes. Add nuts, cool. Cream shortening and 2 cups sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, continue mixing until well blended. Add flour, salt and baking soda, mix well. If desired, add 8 drops yellow and 4 drops red food coloring, mixing until well blended. Divide dough into 3 parts. On lightly floured foil, roll each into an 8-inch by 12-inch rectangle, spread with 1/3 of filling mixture. Starting from wide end, roll as for jellyroll. Wrap in foil. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Place in freezer several hours or overnight. To bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Unwrap rolls, cut with sharp knife into 1/4-inch slices. Place on greased cookie sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Makes 7 to 8 dozen cookies.
SWEET POTATO BON-BON CANDY
1 pound dried apricots or peaches, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups cooked, sweet potato puree
4 cups coconut
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups chopped pecans, toasted
2 pounds powdered sugar
Mix all ingredients in large bowl. Chill 2 hours or until firm enough to shape into 1-inch balls. These can be served with a pecan on top or dipped in white chocolate to coat. Store tightly covered in refrigerator.
NORTH CAROLINA'S FAVORITE SWEET POTATO PIE
2 1/4 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup packaged French vanilla instant pudding
3/4 cup evaporated milk
2 large eggs, room temperature
6 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 9-inch unbaked pie shell
In a large bowl combine all filling ingredients and beat at medium speed until well blended. Spread evenly into unbaked pie shell. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 4 minutes longer or until set. Cool on wire rack. If desired, garnish with whipped cream, raspberries and mint leaves. Makes 8 servings.
Editor's Note: Recipes published in the "Country Kitchen" are not kitchen-tested prior to publication. Look for more "Country Kitchen" recipes online at www.AlfaFarmers.org. Janet McCoy is a program coordinator with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System's Alabama 4-H.