Top | — A Vegetable Ignoramus Expands Her Repertoire

German Butterballs (Potatoes)

(post, Cristin Couzens)

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I posed a question about potatoes and got a lesson about firewood.

I'd bought vegetables from Lyle Stanley of Gee Creek Farm before.  A sturdy man, in classic farmer overalls, our only previous verbal exhange was his tagline, "enjoy your food and health" and my polite "thank you."  Today, I wanted to know about his potatoes.

“These potatoes, you stored them over the winter?” I asked, slightly embarrassed at being unsure of the answer.

“Yes, of course.”  Lyle said, almost incredulously, but not quite. 

“I didn’t know!”

“That’s ok.  I’m teaching you.  I pulled them out of the ground in October.  I stack them in these black crates with some space in-between.  I run fans to keep them from rotting.  And I keep them in the dark.”

“Right, so they won’t sprout.”  Ah ha!  Something I knew.

“Yes, to keep them from turning green and sprouting.  Potatoes are from the deadly night shade family, you know.”

Deadly?  No, I didn’t know.  You mean that potato I had in my cabinet that turned green, but I threw it into my stir fry anyway could have killed me?

“Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants.  The greens cannot be eaten.”

Last year I started making homemade chicken broth using chicken necks and feet and carrot tops and turnip greens.  Finding a use for all parts of the animal and vegetable, I was feeling pretty good about myself.  Until now. 

Holy cow, I could’ve poisoned my husband and me to death!

While I was taking pictures of his potatoes, I overheard Lyle telling a family his potatoes are organic and he sells them to local farmers to grow their own potatoes.

“I’m very proud of this.  You shouldn’t have to buy potato seeds from a thousand miles away.  Just like you shouldn’t have to buy your vegetables from a thousand miles away.  We have land.  We have sun.  We have water.  And we have people who want to work.”

He was revving up for a rant.  I brought us back to potatoes.

“What’s your favorite potato?”

“The German Butterball.  You can mash it, boil it, fry it, make hash browns with it.  It’s pretty inside, like a sunny day.  They’re good for winter-time work outside.  Like firewood.  Do you know what I mean about firewood?”  His motor was running.  There was no stopping him.

Firewood, potatoes.  Firewood, potatoes.  Desperately searching for an answer to recover from not knowing that potatoes don’t get pulled from the ground in March, I came up with nothing. 

“No, I don’t know what you mean about firewood.”

“Firewood heats you two times.  Once when you split it and once when you burn it.  Potatoes are good, when you’re cutting wood, for your body to burn.  People shouldn’t eat them unless they’re really burning them off.”  He was quoting Thoreau.   I didn’t quite get the analogy, though I did consider putting down the six potatoes I was holding in my hands, as there was no wood-splitting equivalent activity in my future.

“People should start with lean protein, a little bit of fat, and lots and lots of fruits and vegetables.  They should eat vegetables until they’re full.”

But wait, isn’t a potato a vegetable?   Or maybe it’s like how a tomato isn’t actually a vegetable, but really a fruit?  And I asked another stupid question.

“Is a potato a vegetable?”

“Yes.  But it’s a high-carbohydrate vegetable.  You need to eat lots of yellow, reds, greens, and purples.”

That’s not what the International Potato Center says.  They made 2008 the Year of the Potato-- a publicity gig meant to draw attention to the potato and its ability to feed impoverished nations.  Yes, they tried that in Ireland and got the Potato famine.  But, the problem in Ireland was the lack of genetic diversity.  One mold was able to wipe out the entire population of potatoes because they were all the same.  Lyle would be prepared for this.   

Pamela K. Anderson, (no, not that Pamela Anderson) Director of the International Potato Center wrote on the IPC website, “Picking up a bag of potatoes in the supermarket puts you directly in touch with a treasure trove of history. The potato did not come from Idaho, Ireland or Germany. The origin of today’s potato stretches back 8000 years, past 16th century scholars, Spanish conquistadors, the Inca civilization and pre-Colombian cultures to the shores of Lake Titicaca high up in the Andes. Nowadays almost 5000 varieties of potato exist.”

I did buy Lyle’s potatoes.  I balanced them with three varieties of carrots from Rick Steffen Farms: Sugar Snax (orange…kinda  like red), Purple Haze (purple!), and Cream Delight (white, but definitely a vegetable).  Some frozen peas (green!).  And pork from Sweet Briar Farms.  The spinach saag sauce from the jar?  Made in Boulder, Colorado but just nine-hundred and fifty-nine miles from Portland, Oregon.  Just under the 1000 mile mark.  And at least my husband did some winter work today, fifty miles on his bike.  I’ll burn off the potatoes tomorrow.