Grow Spectacular Spuds
Choose heirloom potato varieties for fun and flavor.
Five varieties of potatoes are the sweet, Peruvian purple, white, red and russet potatoes.
Colorado Potato Beetle
Potato Seed Sources
Folks offer all kinds of reasons for why they don’t grow potatoes. Some say potatoes are so inexpensive at the store it just isn’t worth the effort. Others say that potatoes take up too much space in the garden. Still others say potatoes aren’t worth growing because they attract pests like the Colorado potato beetle. I, on the other hand, will always grow potatoes because that’s the easiest way to sample the delicious palate of heirloom varieties, and there is nothing like the flavor of a new potato when it’s eaten just hours after harvest.
Picking a potato
At a typical market in Peru, you might find 200 varieties of potatoes. The crop was developed by the Incas, and a great diversity of potatoes wild and cultivated is still found in the Andes. Of more than 5,000 varieties of potatoes, only a small fraction is available as commercial seed stock in North America.
I grow several varieties of potatoes that differ in growing traits and culinary qualities. I consider the following factors when making a choice:
? Length of season. Varieties mature in 65 to 180 days. It’s great to have some short-season varieties for new potatoes, and long-season ones for winter storage.
? Resistance. Varieties exhibit varying levels of resistance to blight, scab, verticillium wilt and other potato afflictions.
? Yield. I want heavy producers like Viking, as well the speciality varieties, like All Blue, which have lower yields.
Although it’s essential to know how a variety can perform in the garden, it’s equally important to assess its potential in the kitchen. Although most cookbooks refer to ‘a potato,’ the variety used can affect the final dish. Culinary differences include:
? Taste. Flavor ranges from nutty to sweet, and from bland to intense.
? Texture. The texture can have a huge effect on a dish. Whether your mashed potatoes are fluffy or gummy might reflect the choice of variety, not your cooking skills. A waxy variety like Chieftain is ideal for potato salads and steamed new potatoes, whereas a mealy potato like Butte makes the perfect baked potato.
? Color. Potatoes range from plain brown skins with white flesh, to red skin with yellow flesh, to all blue and many variations in between. A potato salad made with three colors is a feast for the eyes as well as the tastebuds.
? Shape. Potatoes vary in shape from round to oval to finger-like. The latter look great served whole (steamed or grilled) and are prized by restaurateurs and gourmands.
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