An Heirloom Sweet Potato: The Nancy Hall

Posted: May 14, 2015

I take no part in the current craze that it has to be heirloom (i.e. old and open-pollinated) to be worth planting. There are many modern open-pollinated varieties that have been bred by highly conscious, skilled and sustainable seed enthusiasts. At Sow True Seed we 100% support open-pollinated (both old and new), because the seed can be saved and replanted true to type. Open-pollinated offers a power-reversal from large-centralized seed (read: chemical) companies, back to the gardeners and farmers.

Anyway, with all that said, the nostalgia of a good quality heirloom can often be irresistible. There is real history in an heirloom. For it to have survived that long, there will be a story, and I’m a sucker for stories. Nancy Hall Sweet Potato an old heirloom

Image from page 27 of “Annual catalogue of Schwill’s sure seeds” (1916)

The Nancy Hall Sweet Potato

“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.”

Quoted from the Slow Food Ark of Taste

The Nancy Hall was all but lost as a couple of commercial varieties dominated the stage, but home growers kept it alive through the tough times. In 2010 Yanna Fishman (a local heroine of mine and many) nominated the Nancy Hall to the Ark of Taste and now the sweet potato is experiencing a resurgence of attention.

“While not the most productive of my varieties [Yanna stewards over forty sweet potato varieties], it has a rich golden color, firm texture and delicious flavor.”

Quoted from The Seed Underground by Janisse Ray

Nancy Hall Sweet Potato an old heirloom

Image from page 27 of “Annual catalogue of Schwill’s sure seeds” (1916)

The text from this page reads:

Nancy Hall Sweet Potatoes Seed Sweet Potatoes All prices heregiven are packedf. o. b. Memphis.Purchaser mustpay carryingcharges. Pricessubject to marketchanges, and soldat the rate of 45lbs. to the bushel. All Seed SweetPotatoes will beshipped about the15th of March, asweather before thattime is entirely toocold and potatoeswill rot when han-dled or bedded too early. We absolutely make no guaranteewhatever on them. They leave our store in good condition,and will be shipped at buyers risk only. Nancy Hall—Skin yellow; meat, which is a clearamber color, is as : Bunch Yellow Yam—Finest quality yellow skinand flesh Early Triumph Sweet Potato—Flesh bright lightyellow, of good size, very prolific and threeweeks earlier than any other variety; verylarge smotth skin, cook soft; vine running… Gold Coin Bunch Yam—Dark yellow flesh; ma-tures early; vine bushy habit Genuine Yellow Yam—The old reliable runningyam; deep yellow; flesh cooks soft Southern Queen—Matures very early; very

This really makes me want to hunt down and grow the Southern Queen, alongside my Nancy Hall!

Sow True Seed and Slow Food Asheville

The Nancy Hall Sweet Potato has its home in Tennessee and Yanna Fishman of Old Fort fought for its resurrection, now Sow True Seed and Slow Food Asheville are continuing to champion this sweet potato with a citizen science project to collect data of growth, yield, taste and storability! If you are growing the Nancy Hall this year then you’ll have the optional choice to fill in a simple form and be a part of the Nancy Hall story.

Written by Sow True Seed Community Coordinator, Chris Smith



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5 responses to “An Heirloom Sweet Potato: The Nancy Hall”

  1. Tia Bednar says:

    I would like 10 please!!
    Thank you

  2. Bridgette Crosby says:

    The Nancy Hall Sweet Potato was named for my 7x Great Grandmother! I have just discovered this wonderful story while doing family research and would love to buy some seeds! Please let me know where I may get them!

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