Max Eliot ’21: Book VII, Chapter IV (Of the Batata or Sweet Potato and Its Fruit)

Book VII, Chapter IV

Of the batata [sweet potato] and its fruit, which is a very nourishing food and one of the most esteemed among the Indians, and how it is sown and harvested, and other particularities of this delicacy or fruit.

Translated by Max Eliot ’21

In this Island of Hispaniola and other parts, batatas are a main sustenance for the Indians and one of their most prized foods, most similar in appearance to the ajes, but much better in flavor. I must say that to me, the two seem almost the same thing in appearance, in methods of cultivation, and even in their flavor, except that the batata is a more delicate fruit, its skin is thinner, the taste is better, and it digests more easily. A ripe batata is no worse to the taste than a nice marzipan. They put the sweet potatoes in mounds to grow them, much as I described for the ajes in the previous chapter, and they mature and ripen in three or four or five or six months at the latest, depending on the soil and the time of year. The leaf of the sweet potato is more jagged than that of the ajes, but almost the same, and the vines or branches spread out over the ground the same way and they ripen in as much time. They are eaten boiled or roasted, in stews and preserves. However prepared, they are a very good food that could even be presented to his Caesarean Majesty as a very lovely dish. As for me, I believe that ajes and batatas are closely related and have much in common, save that batatas are much better; they are much more delicate and sweet, the way some apples and even some ajes are tastier than others. There are five species or genus of batatas, all with different stems and leaves: aniguamar, atibiuneix, guaraca, guacarayca, and guananagax—all are sweet potatoes, and to my eye the differences are few. But expert agriculturists see much difference between them, as in their appearance, yield, harvest time, and flavor; the one they call aniguamar is held to be the best and most valued. When batatas are well ripe, they can often be kept in storage all the way to Spain if the journey is expected to be quick, but often they spoil at sea. I have brought some from this city of Santo Domingo to the city of Avila, and although they did not keep as well as when they left, they were taken to be a very unique and good fruit and were held in high esteem.

Image: Lithograph of a sweet potato by Etienne Denisse published in Flore D’Amerique during the 1840s.