About Potatoes

This week’s lesson: Potatoes!

Potatoes, also known as “spuds”, are a staple crop in the Midwest. There are many different varieties, which range in shape and color such as purple, yellow, and orange, and have different flavors and uses. Choosing a variety can be overwhelming, but they basically fall into two categories: baking potatoes and boiling potatoes. Baking potatoes (such as Russet, Fingerling, and Purple Viking) have coarser skin, and are higher in starch, with a dry, mealy texture which turns light and fluffy when cooked. Boiling potatoes (such as Red Potatoes) have a thin, waxy skin, and have less starch, which helps them hold their shape in the boiling process. There are some potatoes that fall in the middle, in the “all-purpose” category, such as the Yukon Gold, Peruvian Blue, Superior, and Kennebec. They are moister than baking potatoes, but will hold together in boiling water, and are particularly well-suited to roasting, pan frying. New potatoes are just that- immature potatoes of any variety that are harvested young, and valued for their sweeter taste and delicate texture.

How do you know when they are ready to harvest? 
Since all of the action is buried underground, it is hard to see when potatoes are ready to harvest. Once the flowers start to bloom, that is a good sign that you are close to harvest time. You can harvest new potatoes once you see flowering, by digging around the edges of the plant with a garden fork (you’re less likely to cut the tubers with a garden fork than you are with a shovel.) To harvest mature potatoes for storing, wait until the flowers finish blooming, and the foliage has died back. Keep hilling up the soil or mulch around the plants in the meantime, so that the tubers aren’t exposed to sunlight. Potatoes are best harvested on a dry, sunny day, early in the day if possible. Leave them on the surface of the soil for a few hours to harden the skin, or spread them in a cool place (or even on the garage floor) for a day or two if it is too moist out.

How do you store them?
Before storing, it is a good idea to sort out any of the potatoes with blemishes or cuts, from the un-blemished ones. Cook the imperfect ones first, as they will not keep long, and store the good ones for later. Potatoes are best stored in a burlap bag. These can be bought quite cheaply from garden and seed potato suppliers. Potatoes release moisture, so the burlap allows them to breathe without letting in too much light. Brush the soil off as best you can, but don’t wash them until just before use. Never store potatoes in plastic bags, and especially not transparent or white ones. Not only will the light get through these bags, causing them to turn green (which will make them too bitter to eat), but it will trap in moisture and your potatoes will rot more quickly. Keep the sacks in cool, dry, dark place (40-50 degrees F).

How do you cook them?
Scrub the potatoes gently with a brush under cold water, to remove all dirt. Cut off and discard any green parts, and any “eyes” (the sprouts that form) with a sharp knife. Potatoes can be eaten with or without the skin on, but the skin contains most of the nutrients, so leave it on if you want to maximize the health benefits. Once potatoes are peeled, they start to oxidize (turn brown) if not cooked right away. To prevent discoloration, toss with a little bit of lemon juice.

Potatoes need to be cooked in order to eat them. They can be baked, boiled, steamed, grilled, fried, or sautéed, and are delicious in casseroles, curries, soups, breads, etc. When cooking potatoes, you will know they are done when you can pierce a fork through them easily.

NUTRITION:

Potatoes are versatile vegetables that can be a delicious part of a healthy meal. Sometimes potatoes get a “bad rap” because they are one of the starchiest vegetables, making this vegetable higher in carbohydrates and calories when compared to some of its leafy and colorful counterparts. However, potatoes also offer a range of nutritional benefits. Overall potatoes are high in potassium which is essential for heart health and helping reduce blood pressure. Sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A which gives it that beautiful orange color. Potatoes are also very versatile which means you can easily find ways to add it to your diet. Just remember that because potatoes are higher in calories and starch they really should be considered a carbohydrate food so be sure they only fill a quarter of your plate too keep those portions in control.

Courtesy of: Devon R. Toia, Swedish Covenant Hospital dietitian

RECIPE:

This comforting soup is a great way to use your other home-grown veggies, such as carrots, celery, and onion. For added flavor, you can add fresh dill as well.

Creamy Potato Soup
Serves 8

4 slices bacon, cut up in bite-sized pieces
3 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped (3 cups)
1 large onion, chopped (1 cup)
1 medium carrot, chopped (1/2 cup)
1 stalk celery, chopped (1/2 cup)
4 cups milk
2 tsp salt
¼ tsp. pepper
1 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. paprika

In a large stock pot, cook bacon on medium-high heat until crisp. Drain bacon, reserving 3 Tbsp. of drippings in the pot. Set bacon on a paper towel to drain.

Add chopped potatoes, onion, carrot, and celery to bacon drippings in the pot. Cover, and cook over low heat about 20 min, or until potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in the milk, salt, and pepper; bring the mixture to a boil.

Stir together sour cream, flour, and paprika in a small bowl. Gradually stir about 1 cup of the hot mixture into the sour cream mixture, mix to combine, and then add it back to the pot. Cook and stir just until the mixture bubbles and starts to thicken. Top with the bacon pieces, and serve immediately.