As my potatoes grow and flourish and my mouth waters over these buttery delicacies, it occurred to me that many folks don’t know much about these gems, other than the fact they LOVE to eat them. But potatoes don’t have to be an enigma. How much do you know about potatoes?
1 — Most everyone has heard that the skins are where the nutrients hide. For example, the flesh contains less than 20% of the potassium, a third of the vitamin C and about 10% of the niacin. Where’s the rest? In the skin! So for your healthiest meal, be sure to keep it include it during consumption.
2 — While there are tons of different varieties, potatoes come in five basic types: russets, yellow-skinned, white, red, blue/purple.
3 — What makes a “new” potato new? Think of them as the baby crop, the first potatoes harvested in spring when you simply cannot wait to get them into the kitchen. The potato vines are still alive at harvest and the skins are near papery thin. It’s the main way we eat ours! But if you allow the vine to die back and the potatoes to cure underground, this gives their skins a chance to toughen up. Older potatoes store better. Another difference is in the starch. “New” potatoes are sweeter and less starchy than their more “mature” counterparts.
4 — When it comes to food prep, all potatoes are not treated equally. Russet potatoes are fluffier when cooked due mostly to the fact that their densely packed starch molecules expand and separate during cooking. Wonderful when serving mashed potatoes. Idaho potatoes work well for this purpose, too. But if you’re in the market for a sturdy gratin-style potato, opt for “waxy” potatoes like Red Pontiac and Reddale. Some middle-grounders are Yukon Gold and Kennebec. These are tend to be more moist than “starchy” varieties yet fluff relatively well and hold together, too.
5 — For best storage, these guys like it dark and preferably around 45° – 55°. If you don’t have a root cellar (ideal conditions) then try a dark corner of your pantry or garage, depending on your climate. Warmth and light can cause potatoes to sprout. I found a basket to place inside my pantry that allows them air flow, but keeps them in the dark when the door opens and closes. Don’t refrigerate: this converts some of the potato’s starch to sugar.
6 — Sweet potatoes are not true potatoes. They ‘re root vegetables; an enlarged part of the root used by the plant to store energy. Potatoes are tubers that form from the stem of the plant, only underground. Who knew!
7 — Green potatoes are not green because they’re young or old, they’re green because they’ve been exposed to sunlight. This is one of the primary reasons we “hill” potatoes. Due to their upward growth habit, potatoes can break the soil surface and will then turn green. And green potatoes = green face (as in sick :() The culprit? Solanine; a mildly toxic compound that occurs naturally in the night shade family (Solanaceae) of plants. The exposure to sunlight increases toxicity. Don’t eat potatoes raw, either. (Your belly will thank you!)
8 — Move over rye and wheat, potatoes can make some pretty tasty Vodka. Did you know that you can mash the potatoes, heat them in a pressure cooker until the starches turn to sugar and then using a distillery kit, run the potato juice through (to remove any impurities) and voila — potato vodka! Blind taste tests tend to rate it distinctively delicious!
9 — Potatoes are excellent producers IF you know how to coax them into continual production. Ever heard of the Lutovsky box? Designed by Greg Lutovsky a system whereby you can grow 100 potatoes with one plant in the space of 4 square feet. How? Basically you build a raised planter bed, 2 X 2 and plant your potato seed as normal. As the potato plant grows, you build up the sides of your box, adding dirt as you do so (mimics hilling effect) and the plant will continue to grow, upward, upward, upward, increasing production.
**You’ll need to choose late-season potatoes, those that mature 90 days or more as they will continually produce tubers. Short-season varieties won’t work because they produce a limited number of potatoes and then the plant dies.
10 — Some varieties of potatoes produce fruit after they flower that look like green cherry tomatoes and can confuse a garden gal like me. How did a tomato plant make its way into my potato bed? That’s bad—very bad! While these two are part of the same plant family, they are NOT good companions. But my fears were for not. This little fella was normal (simply a first for me!).
So there you have it. And if you needed one more reason to try your hand at growing these wonderful plants, homemade potato chips may be just the thing to change your mind. Forget deep fryers, we eat healthy around these parts. How about slicing them paper-thin, coating them with a fine layer of extra-virgin olive oil (or safflower), bake them at 375°F for about 45 minutes, or until desire crispness has been reached and then dig in. Kids adore them and you’ll feel better knowing they are good for them. I do love win-win. 🙂
My weekend harvest yielded a wagon load of buttery sweet and delicious potatoes. Mmmmm…..