Potatoes are one crop I can grow during January. They don’t like cold weather, but they will tolerate frosty weather if covered. Too many days of it and forget it. They tag out. As I ponder my potato crop, it occurred to me that many folks don’t know much about these gems, other than the fact that they LOVE to eat them. But potatoes don’t have to be an enigma. Learn more about potatoes!
1 — Skins – 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 consume the skin.
2 — While there are a ton of different varieties, potatoes come in five basic types: russets, yellow-skinned, white, red, blue/purple. Whew ~ that’s a lot of tater tots!
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 these babies into the kitchen! At this stage, the potato vines are still alive and the skins are near papery thin. It’s the main way my family eats potatoes. But if you allow the vine to die back and the potatoes to cure underground, their skin will toughen up making them more suitable for storage. 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 for creating 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 tend to be more moist than “starchy” varieties, yet fluff relatively well and hold together, too.
5 — For best storage, taters like it dark, 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 for air flow, but keeps the potatoes in the dark when the door opens and closes–which happens A LOT when you have two teenagers roaming the house. TIP: Don’t refrigerate, as 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. The 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 the toxicity. Don’t eat potatoes raw, either. (Your belly will thank you!)
8 — And 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), creating 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, it’s 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. Woot! Woot!
**You’ll need to choose late-season potato varieties, 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, fruit that looks like green, cherry tomatoes. Confusing for a garden gal like me. How did a tomato plant make its way into my potato bed?
I mean, 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 convince you. Forget deep fryers, we eat healthy around these parts. How can you eat a healthy potato chip, you might ask?
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 it’s good for them. I do love win-win. 🙂
How to Grow Potatoes
Check my Recipe section for more recipes or my How-To Grow Potatoes page if you haven’t yet figured out how to grow these wonderfully, delicious, buttery sweet potatoes. Mmmmm…