Potatoes

My husband and I are not good potato growers. We’ve tried. Last year we only got a handful, many of them micro-sized, which I think will be very trendy someday, mainly because the gum-ball sized tubers are so darn cute.

This year I did a little research and came across a method that insured a bumper crop. It involved building a box of sorts (no top or bottom). You plant the tubers in the ground inside your three-foot tall box and as they grow you cover them with dirt.

The box allows you to build up the dirt giving the potatoes plenty of growing room. I guess this is old news to farmers who have used old car tires to achieve the same thing, but the idea was new to me and I was excited.

We lovingly tended the plants all summer, not even disturbing the soil to grab a few early potatoes. We wanted them fat. We added a mixture of dirt and compost from our backyard compost bin, which we affectionately call our “little black gold maker.” I imagined having to add a storage bin in our basement to accommodate the pounds of potatoes we were sure to harvest. I had the perfect spot all picked out.

In early fall we decided to start digging. My husband loves to harvest potatoes because it is like a subterranean Easter egg hunt– every potato is a big surprise… especially in our case. We ended up with about eight, medium-sized potatoes and a few micro-potatoes, which we split amongst the four people sharing the garden. Dang.

Luckily we have plenty of talented farmers in our area who can easily pick up the slack for us. I’ve added the Farm at Miller’s Crossing in Hudson, NY to my list of favorite farms. They meet my two criteria: They are organic and reasonably priced. Plus they are quite skilled in potato growing. I am particularly enamored with their “majestic purple” potatoes.

James Beard in his Theory and Practice Of Good Cooking categorizes potatoes into two types: mealy and waxy, neither of which sound too appetizing to me. Seems the more modern nomenclature is “baking potato” or “boiling potato.”

“Cooks Illustrated” has an excellent “Potato Primer” on their site. This tells you everything you want to know about potatoes. They add a third category, appropriately named “in-between” potatoes.

Here’s the low down:

Mealy and Baking Potatoes:
These potatoes have a high starch content and are good for baking, frying, and mashing. Examples: Idaho or Russet potato.

In-between Potatoes: These potatoes have a medium starch content and are good for steaming, baking, roasting, grilling, and au gratin dishes. Examples: Yukon Gold, Purple Majestic.

Firm, Waxy or Boiling Potatoes: These potatoes have a low starch content and are good for boiling, roasting, grilling, sautés, stews, salads, and au gratin dishes. Examples: Red Bliss, French Fingerling.

Potatoes sort of get a bad health rap, mainly because they are a carbohydrate and have a high glycemic index. If you are watching your sugar, don’t go overboard on them. On the plus side, they are rich in magnesium and copper, high in potassium and vitamin C and a good source of dietary fiber. Go for potatoes with blue or yellow flesh. These contain more phytonutrients than their white-fleshed cousins.

Eating the skin ups their nutritional value but with a caveat. Potatoes contain a glycoalkaloid (solanine), which is a mild toxin and most of this toxin is found in the skin. The amount found in most potatoes is considered harmless, but some nutritional experts still recommend that you peel all potatoes. I love a good crisp potato skin so I usual don’t peel them. Green and sprouting potatoes contain a higher amount of the toxin so I do peel those.

The blog Whole Health Source has an excellent three-part series called “Potatoes and Human Health.”

Potatoes were added to the latest Environmental Working Group dirty dozen list. This is a list of the top 12 of the most pesticide contaminated fruits and vegetables. So I search out organic potatoes.

Potatoes can be stored for up to 6 months. Ask your farmer about which ones are better for storage. They should be stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area. Exposure to light will turn them green. Nobody wants green potatoes.

If anyone has extra potatoes to store, we have the perfect place in our basement for them!