Potatoes. Pomme de terre. Solanum Tuberosum. Member of the nightshade family and close relative of the tomato. I don’t speak a lick of French (despite repeated efforts to learn) but I do know that Pomme de terre means “apple of the earth” and anyone who’s ever had the pleasure of digging potatoes might agree that when, after much effort, you finally catch your first glimpse of these brightly colored orbs shining out from under the piles of black soil- well….I can’t think of a more accurate description other than an apple of the earth.
My first time growing potatoes on a production scale was what I would describe as a “come to Jesus” moment. I was early on in being the assistant manager of a pretty big non-profit organic vegetable operation in a public park on the east coast and I’d never grown many things on a production scale, potatoes included. It was an exceptionally cold and wet spring that year. I was working for this really unstable but incredibly brilliant farmer who’s only consistency was making bad decisions. He was having an affair with a married board member by day and by night was making a variety of other questionable farming decisions like getting tractors and farm implements sucked into water logged fields that more closely resembled quick sand than soil. I don’t remb how we got the mess of implements out of the fields but I won’t ever forget the huge ruts and trenches they left behind. Trenches that we’d end up planting potatoes in, covering them by hand using 5 gallon buckets filled with a mixture of compost and leaves. Two acres total of potatoes we planted entirely by hand.
By the time they were ready to harvest my boss had been fired. Around the time he started farming by night he had also purchased a crossbow with the non-profit credit card. Yes, that’s right. a shotgun that shoots arrows intended for killing. Under the budget category of “Plant Defense” which was generally reserved for things like organic pesticides. He was intending to use it to hunt deer, illegally, in a county park operated by the DNR. So needless to say. I inherited the mess of a season he created, the employees he hired, a dry well, a spent budget and 175 families who expected their twice a week share of vegetables that they had already paid good money for. All of this is occurring in my first ever full season of farming for pay.
So when I dug my shovel into the loose soil of the potato beds and heaved up a good 3 pounds of glowing, bright, red potatoes of all shapes and sizes in one pitch fork turn… I, an otherwise not particularly religious man, let out a loud and audible shriek in a heavenly direction. I probably cried and thanked the lord. Fell to my knees and prayed. It was a sight not just of incredible relief…but also of incredible beauty and that’s saying nothing of their flavor.
Potatoes are one of many foods that I think people give a “meh” reputation to in terms of flavor. and. Partially that’s probably because half of y’all don’t salt your food. but. Partially also because folks don’t realize the importance of nutrient density in vegetables and how it relates to flavor. Vegetables don’t pull nutrients from the air and they don’t manufacture them on their own either. If the soil doesn’t have nutrients- neither will your vegetables. and if they don’t have many nutrients they likely also won’t have much flavor. Most people don’t actually know what potatoes really taste like. If asked they’d say they taste like nothing or like whatever they’re cooked in or with. Not true. I make a boiled potato that’ll make you smack your Mama. It’s all about the soil. and the salt.
Potatoes grow really well here. Colorado, in general, produces a huge amount of potatoes in the San Louis Valley and beyond. They also store well here. Folks get all up in arms if they buy produce and it has soil aka ‘dirt’ on it. A) Calling it dirt is really symbolic of how we treat the living, breathing substance we grow our food in and B) The reality of storing things over winter or just as long as you need to before eating is that you do not under any circumstance want to add water to them and then try and store them. They’ll just rot. In addition to being good for you (yes I’m saying you should eat dirt) leaving the soil on is really the key to a long shelf life of a root cellar vegetable.
This is a really simple recipe that is really easy to gussy up. Throw in some chopped garlic and fresh rosemary or dust with some Parmesan cheese and suddenly burger night goes gourmet.
~1 Large Russet Potato per person
~1/2-3/4 c olive oil
Salt. A lot of it.
Pepper to taste
- Preheat Oven to 400 degrees.
- Cut potatoes into fry like shapes, if you’re really struggling to envision this you might try a youtube tutorial. Basically you can easily make ‘steak fries’ by cutting the potato in half lengthwise, place the cut side down and then make thin slices again in the lengthwise direction. I don’t peel my potatoes bec we all know as Grandma says “that’s where the good stuff is” but you can. I recommend Russet’s but this basically works with whatever potatoes you have, maybe except reds- they tend to stick.
- Place potatoes on a baking sheet with a good sized lip or use a casserole dish making a pretty uniform single layer. You want a good amount of contact between each fry and the baking sheet.
- Add oil. 1/2 is a really rough estimate as it really depends on how many potatoes your making and how big your baking sheet is. You want to coat the entirety of the potatoes and the bottom of the baking sheet. It doesn’t need to be an inch thick but you want to make sure the baking sheet is pretty much completely covered in oil kinda like so:
- Salt. Cover the potatoes in a good layer of salt. A GOOD LAYER, not a sprinkle. This is one of two *key* steps. Your body needs salt. Give it what it needs.
- Bake. Now this is where it gets tricky so listen carefully. Once you put these mamas in the oven you’re going to leave them alone until they start to turn golden brown. Leave. Them. Alone. Don’t shake the tray, don’t get in there with your spatula. Let the poor things cook. Once you see signs of golden deliciousness then you can go ahead and make sure they aren’t sticking to the tray. In my experience it takes a good 30-35 minutes to achieve a decent amount of crisp. How crispy and how long that takes are really up to how you like your fries.
- Remove from oven. Transfer to a plate covered in paper towel OR ranch style: dump the fries onto a deconstructed brown paper bag right in the middle of the table.
- Salt again. This time a sprinkle should do.