celebrating, and storing, the humble potato

HOW DID A PLANT FROM THE ANDES turn itself into an international star, and the world’s most-eaten vegetable, with more than 300 million metric tons consumed a year? This week’s Summer Fest event celebrates the humble but adaptable potato, Solanum tuberosum, with tips on growing, harvesting, and most of all storing, in case your harvest is in need of a winter home any week now. Oh, and yes, with recipes from my creative culinary colleagues—this is a cross-blog recipe swap, after all. Got one to share?

Yes, the potato has gone truly global; the intricate story of its journey through the centuries is probably best told by the International Potato Center.

China, and now India, are the biggest producers of potatoes today–once the claim of Europe, North America and the former Soviet Union–though I am hard-pressed to think of a Chinese dish featuring them. As much as I love French fries and baked (oh, and twice-baked) and crispy oven-roasted, I do also love potatoes with some kick: like Aloo Chole (Indian spiced potatoes with chickpeas), or potato salad with some Hatch chiles, perhaps, and Taquitos de Papa (anything stuffed with mashed potatoes is fine with me, actually, especially when it’s my mouth).

Storing Potatoes

I COULDN’T SAY IT BETTER THAN the Farm Security Administration did to farmers and would-be farmers in the 1942 slides I borrowed from the Library of Congress (below). Potatoes, perhaps counter-intuitively, need humidity to keep well over the long haul. (Click the first thumbnail, then toggle slide to slide using the arrows by the caption.)

Last year I actually figured out the “right” storage spot at my place, and had my own potatoes right into spring. The hiding place, a closet in my mudroom, was as close as I could come to their ask of high humidity combined with dark and cold (ideally 40 degrees, but ranging from 38 to 45). First I had to cure them in a just slightly warmer place. Need all the potato harvest, curing and storage details?

Growing Potatoes

THE POTATO WOULDN’T BE the fourth-most-consumed food crop in the world (behind only wheat, corn, and rice) if it weren’t relatively easy to grow. The biggest decision is what you’re going to use to hill them up, as the process of applying more soil or mulch of some kind (I used straw, above) to the rambunctious plants as they get too tall for their own good is called. Some potato-growing basics.

Sources of Unusual Seed Potatoes:

Not Just Meat and Potatoes: Recipe Links

THE AVERAGE AMERICAN consumed 126 pounds a year in 2008, according to the National Potato Council. But in what form? Here’s what my colleagues cooked up this week for Summer Fest:

What’s a Summer Fest? (Or a Fall Fest?)

SUMMER FEST IS A cross-blog recipe (and tip) swap–and you’re invited to participate. Simply post your link or recipe or idea in the comments below my post, and also on the blogs of the other participants listed in the recipe links box just above.

Want more information on how it all works? Get the details (and the schedule for upcoming weeks, including our shift into Fall Fest after September 22, with a new logo but the same recipe-sharing routine). We’re continuing right into the Thanksgiving holiday.

20 comments
September 15, 2010

comments

  1. says

    Thanks for all of the great info. We accidentally grew potatoes this year from the slightly under-processed compost we spread on our home garden. I’m hooked and looking forward to the next garden season.

    Now that the weather’s turning fall-ish, we turn to potatoes. Here’s a humble and homey dish that sits halfway between late summer and fall.

    http://200birdies.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/potato-zucchini-and-red-pepper-gratin/

  2. says

    I love white potatoes. Even more so now that I know they are actually quite nutritious! My Summer Fest post goes over the nutritional benefits–for us and the kids–and how we can get the most out of potatoes’ nutrients. I also share a recipe for my Potato and Chorizo Tacos. Believe it or not, they are healthy, too!

    Thanks for another great week. Can’t wait to read what everyone else has been making with potatoes!

  3. says

    I am really enjoying Summerfest this year. I wish I’d known about it sooner. Thank you for introducing us to some many wonderful cooking blogs. Your potager sure looks pretty and lush in the photo above, (in spite of such a dry summer) Happy last days of summer…
    xo Michaela
    And here is a potato recipe to share… not my own, but a fabulous one from Patricia Wells (even beats my Tante’s best… shh)
    http://www.thegardenerseden.com/?p=13474

  4. Margaux Drake says

    First, your photography reminds me of Gourmet Magazine (dearly missed but I guess there is a fall issue???). It’s beautiful! How do you do it?

    Second, I promised to let you know when I posted my blog about visiting your friend, Martha Stewart’s garden to pick up plant donations for the celebrity plant auction I held this spring for my non profit, The Giving Gardens. I was overwhelmed by her generosity. Thought you may think that it’s a neat story too:
    http://heavenonearthhome.blogspot.com/2010/09/visit-to-martha-stewarts-garden.html

    Thanks for all the great information & inspiration…always!–M

    • says

      @Eszter: Using straw or other mulch material is easier, and people with lots of years of experience doing it tell me it’s just as productive. I keep thinking soil would be better, but I do see to have a lot of potatoes (haven’t pulled them all yet – just what I wanted to eat).

      @Cate: Nice to see you. I love the earthy smell of root crops of all kinds, including potatoes when fresh-dug. You are so right!

      @Brenda: Spud Days sounds like MY kind of event. I’ll have mine with butter AND cheddar please, but let’s skip the tug-of-war, OK? :)

  5. Brenda says

    What timing Margaret! My home town, Shelley, Idaho, is celebrating Spud Days this Saturday. Free baked potato giveaway – with all the toppings of course. Many potato related activities all day. The highlight is when they dig a big pit and mix instant mashed potatoes in a cement mixer and pour into the pit. Then comes the tug-of-war over the pit. Various groups battling it out for bragging rights for the next year. A great small town festival.

    • says

      Thanks, Nan, for your delicious-sounding potato treat. I am a potato-pancake fanatic; I’d eat them all the time if not for the extra work; used to make them lots. See you soon again, I hope.

  6. Maggie Oster says

    Very much enjoy your website and this article. Have you tried growing German Butterball and Yellow Finn potatoes? After a lot of variety testing, these are my favorites. For fun, check out a copy of my book, The Potato Garden: A Grower’s Guide. Out-of-print, but easy to find and cheap on Amazon. It was a 1994 James Beard Nominee. Thanks for all your hard work.

    • says

      Welcome, Maggie, and I think I probably have that book here somewhere…since I moved upstate fulltime one project I have not tackled is really organizing my very old and very large library of garden books. Now you are providing another catalyst! I do like both the kinds you recommend; agreed. Hope to see you soon again.

  7. Michael says

    My wife recently pulled up her decorative sweet potato vines so she could put some mums in the pots they occupied. To our surprise there was a fair sized potato in one pot. It’s a nice pinkish red color on the outside but pale white on the inside. I thought I might try to start slips from it and grow a few vines in the kitchen this winter. But my wife wonders if we can eat this kind of potato.. As it looks rather strange. Are there any inedible potato varieties?

    • says

      Welcome, Michael. I have read that it is technically edible but bad-tasting — and then there’s this: it was grown with lots of chemicals at the garden center before you bought it, so that alone is the reason not to take a bite.

      I have overwintered these in my basement right in their pots — I let them go dry (the soil I mean) and then when I start watering in spring they start up again. Here’s what Proven Winners (which markets various ornamental sweet potatoes) says to do in winter.

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