Crop Spot: Potatoes
I’m a potato kind of person. Not only is the tuber ingrained in my personal heritage of a Midwestern girl with Irish ancestry, I am one to know where to get the best fry in town, and be absolutely comforted by a mashed potato ‘volcano’ with gravy spilling over the side.
While the modern potato is beloved by the snackers and the farmers of Michigan (we are a major producer of potatoes, especially new potatoes), it also has a complex past. Hailing from South America as early as 11,000 BCE, where the Inca and other peoples of the Andes were able to grow many different varieties at high altitudes, the potato didn’t make waves in European cuisine until Parmentier began to champion the vegetables in the late 18th century. The potato, after his promotion, took off as a crop staple – and Parmentier’s gravesite in Pere-Lachaise Cemetery still gets adorned with spuds as a thanks. Once potatoes were established as a staple crop, there were significant road bumps, such as the Irish Potato Famine, but the potato took hold as dishes from colcannon to gnocchi to aloo gobi became popular, and are now even being studied for as a crop for the future by the International Potato Center.
In the Garden:
Potatoes grow from “seed potatoes”, or potatoes with eyes. You want to plant these seed potatoes in slightly acidic soil, making sure that there isn’t too much moisture, as your tubers will rot. For those in small spaces, try growing potatoes in bags “lasagna” style!
In the Medicine Cabinet:
Potatoes are a great source of Vitamin C, up to 45% of the Daily Recommended Value. Vitamin C is an antioxidant, and helps wounds heal, which is why it is recommended to eat potatoes with their skin on, where a lot of the vitamin is found.
In the Kitchen:
Potatoes are a storage vegetable, and can be held for months in the right conditions. Place them in a cardboard box or basket, and keep them in a cool and dark location (45-50 degrees Fahrenheit.) Don’t put them in the fridge, which will be too cold, and turn the potato’s starches into sugar. Make sure not to store your potatoes with your apples or onions – they release gasses that will cause the other to ripen.
I mean, what can’t you do with the potato? Boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew, but also fry them, roast them, saute them, stick them in a pancake! There are many different ways you can go with the potato but my preference lies with German Potato Salad, which has been ever-present at family gatherings and fond memories. Here’s an updated, roasted version of that favorite dish:
German Potato Salad
1 lb Red potatoes, small-to-medium diced
1 Small yellow onion, sliced thin
½ lb Bacon, cut into ¼” strips
½ cup, split into two ¼ cups Red wine vinegar
⅓ cup Sunflower oil or another neutral dressing oil
4 tbsp split Whole grain mustard
6-10 Small dill pickles, the sharper the better, cut in half and sliced thin
Fresh dill fronds
Preheat the oven to 350.
Render your bacon bits until crispy, and set the bacon fat aside in a large bowl. Keep your bacon bits for the final composition of your salad.
In the bowl with the bacon fat, add ¼ cup of the red wine vinegar and 2 tablespoons of whole grain mustard, and whisk to combine. Add your red potatoes and onion to the bacon fat mixture, and toss to coat.
Slide your bacon-fat-coated spuds and onion to a baking sheet, and pop in the oven until crisp on the outside and fully cooked, or about 30 minutes. Test with a fork, if unsure!
While the potatoes are baking, create a vinaigrette by whisking together the rest of your red wine vinegar, whole grain mustard, and the sunflower oil.
Bring the potatoes out and toss in the vinaigrette with the reserved bacon, pickles and fresh dill fronds. Check for seasoning (the bacon adds a lot of salt on its own!) Serve warm.
Claire Butler is the Communications and Outreach Intern for Taste the Local Difference. She is a current culinary student at the Great Lakes Culinary Institute. Contact her at email@example.com