In my previous post, I talked about the Mascogos, an ethnic group of Afro-Mexicans, descendants of Black Seminoles, who currently live in the state of Coahuila. The number of their descendants is in the hundreds, and their survival is hanging by a thread; recognition by the Mexican government as an ethnic group a few years ago, has given them some exposure at the national level, and perhaps a little hope. In 2000, the recipe book “Recetario Mascogo de Coahuila” (“Mascogos of Coahuila Recipe Book”) was published by the CONACULTA (National Council for Culture and Arts), and in 2018, the INAH (National Institute of Anthropology and History) hosted an event featuring Mascogo cuisine. One of their most traditional dishes is tetapún, a sweet potato bread that is traditionally cooked in iron skillets with lids that they call aceros; these aceros are covered with ashes and charcoal, reprieving the breads from burning in direct heat, and allowing them to cook very slowly overnight. The name tetapún comes from the Native American word apan, meaning “something baked”; from there, European settlers in North America specifically referred to indigenous flat corn breads as appone, and later, Southern cuisine in the USA adopted this skillet cornbread with the name of “pone.” This style of bread could last for days, sometimes eaten cold for breakfast, both by foreigners and natives. Pone may also refer to skillet breads with ingredients other than corn, and in the case of sweet potato pone, it is often called ‘tater pone, which probably transformed into tetapún, in Mexican Spanish.
Mascogo cooks often work together, especially when preparing for a feast, and so the recipe for “tetapún (pan de camote)” in the Mascogo recipe book, gingerly calls for “1/2 costal de camote” – 1/2 sack of sweet potatoes, as the first ingredient; I had a poignant moment, imagining all these men and women, collecting the roots, cleaning, cooking together for the whole community, but had to adapt my recipe to more manageable quantities for a small kitchen. In Mexico, there are many different varieties of sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas), with flesh colour ranging from pure white or cream, to deep purple. I found two types of sweet potato at my local supermarket in Southern Ontario:
For this recipe, I decided to use the white-fleshed sweet potato, but I think that any variety will work, just adjusting the amount of flour, depending on the level of freshness and moisture of the roots.
The recipe in the book ends by instructing to fill skillets with the bread paste, cover with lid, place on hot coals and add more on top, then wile away for around 10 hours, replenishing coals, as needed, to maintain a uniform low heat … my iron skillet does not have a lid, and it is way too cold to cook outdoors, especially for that long, so I used the stove top, flipping the bread halfway though, which worked well, and also reduced the cooking time to about 20 minutes!
Sweet Potato Skillet Bread – Tetapún (pan de camote)
1 lb (454g) sweet potatoes; washed
½ to 1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup lard or oil
1 whole clove, or ¼ tsp ground
Peeling the sweet potatoes is optional; the original recipe says not to peel, but I did. Shred sweet potatoes with a cheese grater, and sprinkle with half a cup of flour, to prevent them from turning dark (photo below, left). Pulse in small batches in a food processor, or grind by hand; the Mascogos use metates, flat grinding stones with a long piece to roll on top of the food (see photo at the bottom of this post), and I used my volcanic stone mortar (molcajete, photo below, right):
The sweet potato and flour mix will become close to a paste, but there will still be a lot of texture from the shredding (photo below, left). Transfer ground paste to a mixing bowl. If using a whole clove, grind to a powder (photo below, right):
Add powdered clove to mixing bowl, and continue grinding and transferring the rest of the sweet potatoes. Add two tablespoons of lard (melted or at room temperature) or oil, and the sugar (photo below, left). Mix with hands and/or a spatula, sprinkling with more flour, as needed, until the paste may be formed into a ball (photo below, right):
I ended up using about three quarters of a cup of flour, total. The paste should still be sticky.
Warm up the rest of the lard or oil in a skillet, preferably iron, over medium heat (photo below, left); add sweet potato paste to the centre, then flatten with a spatula (photo below, right):
Continue flattening, extending to cover most of the skillet, then smooth edge with the spatula (photo below, left); reduce heat to low, and allow to cook for about ten minutes. Once the edge starts to change colour and looks dry, check if the bottom is golden brown, then run the spatula all around the edge of the bread (photo below, right):
Flip, using another spatula, if needed, and allow to brown on the other side, for approximately another 10 to 15 minutes:
Cut into wedges, and serve hot or at room temperature, for example with a mug of café de olla (coffee from the pot):
Tetapún is a delicious skillet bread, sweet from the sugar, but mostly from the natural flavours of the sweet potato; the outside is crispy and the inside has an interesting combination of remaining texture from the shredded sweet potatoes, and a smooth and soft consistency from the mix:
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I am sharing my post at Thursday Favourite Things #528, with Bev @ Eclectic Red Barn, Pam @ An Artful Mom, Katherine @ Katherine’s Corner, Amber @ Follow the Yellow Brick Home, Theresa @ Shoestring Elegance and Linda @ Crafts a la Mode.