The dasheen was a root crop that was grown in Effingham County for market. Above ground the plants resemble the ornamental elephant ears plants. The tuber or edible part below ground was harvested and divided. The roots have a hairy covering and are cleaned. When baked or boiled, the inside is a purplish gray starch after peeling and it is eaten with salt and butter around here. It had little to no taste and was not too appetizing. It was a staple in the diet of immigrants to America, especially those from Puerto Rico or the islands.
Dasheens were planted around Clyo and shipped after harvest as far back as the early 1940s. George Morris can remember his family growing them. They kept seedlings every year from their crop to have for the next year’s planting. They put them into the ground in February and dug them in September or October. He recalls they planted them on a three acre plot in five foot rows 30 inches apart.
The “mammy” dasheens (see photo) would get as large as eight pounds and have a tremendous amount of smaller ones on it. They were dug using shovels and carefully cleaned for shipping. They were shipped to New York.
The Morris family stopped planting them for shipment in 1952. George Morris still plants some dasheens every year by saving some of his seedlings for the next year’s crop.
The late Barnard Exley also planted dasheens near Clyo according to his wife Aunt May Carter Exley and daughter Julia E. Rahn. They remember that he took great pride in this crop as he did in everything he planted. The rows of green plants were a very pretty sight.
Uncle Barnard plowed down in the valley between the beds that were planted with a mule. He went back with the hoe to get out all of the weeds. He wanted enough rain to make the crop, but not so much as to drown them. They could turn yellow and scald in wet times. If the rain was not right, it affected the yield.
When time for harvest came, help was hired to get in the crop. The black women hired would clean the roots and make a small fire in the field with the dried plant stalks after the frost. They burned fat pine “lightered knots” that had been plowed out of the fields to get the fire going. The women would bring their small children while they worked. The little ones would play or sleep on a pallet (blanket or comforter) on the ground while they worked. “Shucking” was cleaning the roots and was usually done sitting on a crate in the field.
Barnard dug the clumps and pulled them out of the ground with a pitchfork working ahead of the women. The layer of brown hairy shuck or skin was removed. They were not washed, just brushed clean and put in crates and later packed in burlap sacks for shipping. The women were paid by the bushel for cleaning them. Aunt May made shipping tags for the bags. The tag was wired or tied on the bags with hemp string. Each bag was twisted and closed tightly to ship by rail to New York.
They were eaten by the immigrants up there like Irish potatoes are eaten here. They were weighed and carried by truck to the train in Clyo and shipped up north. They were sold to a Jewish man named Rosen. Mr. Rosen also bought some pumpkins from the farmers in the area including Mr. Abner and Mr. Charlie Exley.
Only a few like George Morris, Amelia B. Herrington and Arthur Exley still keep a few dasheens growing to keep the tradition alive.
This article written by Susan Exley with help from George Morris, May Exley and Julia Rahn. If you have comments, photos or information call 754-6681 or email email@example.com