Ark of Taste
Nancy Hall Sweet Potato
During the 19th century in the American Southeast, sweet potatoes provided the bread and butter for those people who could not afford bread and better. The potato was so valued it could be found in a myriad of food products ranging from beer to bread.
An 1896 letter claims the Nancy Hall variety of sweet potato originated from the accidental crossing of potato and flower seeds by a miss Nancy Hall. Or perhaps, as Tennessee native Nantsy Marsenich claims, the variety was instead discovered by her father and a man named Hall. Regardless of who first discovered the tan-colored, moist, yellow-fleshed tuber, the Nancy Hall was once so loved in the American Southeast a parade was once held in its honor. The taste was so adored that a 1919 farmers’ bulletin proclaimed it one of the most popular varieties of the day.
Nonetheless, the Nancy Hall has all but disappeared from farms and tables. By the 1990s, the commercial market for sweet potatoes became dominated by only two varieties: Beauregard and Covington. This genetic consolidation resulted in the near loss of this regionally treasured treat.
Despite such losses, scattered home garden enthusiasts continue to keep the Nancy Hall free from genetic erosion. Conservation gardener Yanna Fishman describes how today many of her elderly neighbors crave the Nancy Hall, because the delicious flavor supposedly possess the power to bring back memories of their grandmother’s cooking.
It is the hope of growers like Yanna that one day varieties like the Nancy Hall can help remind people what sweet potatoes really taste like.
Photo courtesy of Maveric Heritage Ranch Co. Photographer Tony Laidig