All Eyes on the Potato Family

A long road from the Andes to McDonald's

In the foreword to "The Potato Book" (William Morrow, 1972) Truman Capote wrote of collecting tiny potatoes left in the fields after harvest near his Long Island, New York, home. He said, in part:

"Imagine a cold October morning. I fill my basket with found potatoes in the field and race to the kitchen to create my one and only most delicious ever potato lunch.

"My breathless friend arrives to share the feast. ... We split open steaming potatoes and put on some sour cream. Now I whisk out the big tin of caviar, which I have forgotten to tell you is the only way I can bear to eat a potato. Then caviar - the biggest Beluga - is heaped in mounds on the potato. My friend and I set to. This simple tribute to the fruit of Eastern Long Island farming makes an exhilarating country lunch, fuels the heart and soul and empties the pocketbook."

The humble potato has not always been treated with such royal respect as being robed in sour cream and crowned with caviar.

The South American native (it was first discovered in the Andes by Spanish invaders) was viewed with great curiosity and suspicion in the Old World. To the European way of thinking, no edible plant was grown from anything but a seed.

The potato's odd habit of growing underground, and its strange appearance, threatened Europeans, who blamed the benign spud for everything from leprosy to hermaphroditism.

So heretical was the potato considered, that it was sometimes nailed to a stake and burned. (The original steak and baked potato?)

Antoine-Auguste Parmentier is credited with popularizing the much maligned tuber.

As the story goes, the French military physician planted fields of potatoes outside Paris. To pique the neighbors' curiosity, he had the fields guarded during the day, but dismissed the guards at night. The populace couldn't bear it. They crept in after dark and helped themselves to the potatoes..

Parmentier was later rewarded with having Parmentier tacked to all those French recipes that feature potatoes.

POPULAR SPUDS

Long white: One of the most popular potatoes. It has a thin skin and not a lot of starch. Perfect for boiling and home fries.

Purple: An interesting novel variety, sometimes referred to as the "black" potato. It is dry and somewhat mealy, and is interesting baked or fried.

Round red: Thin-skinned, relatively little starch. Good for boiling, frying, and for potato salads.

Round white: Popular in the Northeast especially. Smooth skinned. Considered an "all-purpose" potato.

Russet: Usually referred to as the "Idaho" potato, no matter where it is grown. Thick-skinned and high in starch makes it perfect for baking. Also good for French fires.

Yellow: Yukon gold is the most common of the yellow varieties. Yellow Finn is another flavorful variety. Thin-skinned, smooth, and creamy, yellows are usually boiled or fried.

MASHED POTATOES WITH ROASTED GARLIC

1 head of garlic, unpeeled

2 large shallots, unpeeled

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and ground pepper

2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled, cut into quarters

5 garlic cloves, peeled

6 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup cream

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Rub the loose papery skin off the garlic head, but leave it whole. Toss the garlic and shallots in olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and wrap them tightly in aluminum foil. Roast for 1 hour.

Remove from oven. When cool they are enough to handle, press the garlic and shallots from their skins and mash thoroughly with a fork.

Place potatoes and the 5 peeled garlic cloves in a large pot. Add 1 teaspoon of salt. Cover with water and boil until potatoes are tender.

Warm the cream.

Drain potatoes add pured garlic and shallots. Coarsely mash potatoes with butter and cream.

Serves 6.

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