South Carolina Cook Gives New Life to Vintage Southern Recipe

Sweet potatoes cooked by Myrtle Beach, SC, native Jon Leithiser (pronounced LIGHT-hyzer) are a one-of-a-kind Southern treat.

Jon often dives in the Waccamaw River, and he finds all manner of treasures such as antique bottles, Native American projectile points and tools, clay pipes and enormous sharks’ teeth. He also pulls up chunks of golden pine resin, which are leftovers from the days when Horry County had a booming naval store industry.

Naval stores are things used for wooden boats, like pine tar used to make the boats leak-proof.

Jon had heard of a restaurant in Murrells Inlet, SC, that used to sell sweet potatoes boiled in pine sap, so once he had enough of the chunks to fill an old cast iron cauldron, he built a fire under it and melted the stuff. When it was boiling he chunked in the potatoes, and a local unique dining treasure was reborn.

Another Myrtle Beach native, J. Bourne, made a video about Jon’s taters. You can see it on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpfHhK5sWrg.

He mostly cooks sweet potatoes, but Jon can and does also put white baking potatoes in the pot. The result is a tender, creamy potato infused with a hint of pine flavor. They take about 30 minutes to cook.

It’s a dangerous and hot job to cook potatoes this way. Jon wears long pants heavy boots, and he uses thick leather gloves when he’s messing around with the cauldron. He has long tongs for removing the potatoes from the sap and then inserts the taters in small brown paper bags. Within seconds the pine sap coating the potatoes hardens, and Jon slices through the bag to split them open. He provides plastic forks, butter and salt, and sometimes cinnamon sugar too, and people are always amazed at how good those potatoes eaten out of paper bags taste.

Jon sets up his rig, which he hauls on a 1946 Dodge Power Wagon, during chilly winter months at area parties and events.

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