A quest for the perfect potato

"At one time in my life I ate practically nothing but potatoes, steaming boiled potatoes, snow-white and flaky and enormous," Iles Brody wrote some years ago. "Believe me, I never revolted, never wished for a better or different fare. . . ."

Now and then someone puts in a good word for the potato, America's most-popular vegetable.

Rarely is taste or flavor mentioned, however.

Yet the taste of a really superior potato surpasses that of almost any other cooked vegetable and meat as well, according to some boosters of the spud. The perfect potato needs no butter, pepper, salt, or other seasoning, and it is as palatable cold as hot.

You do not come upon this kind of potato every day, however.

Iles Brody's memorable potatoes were grown and savored in Hungary more than a half a century ago.

Nonetheless, last September we unexpectedly found what we believe to be the perfect potato -- actually, three hills of potatoes, all of true potato taste -- at the west corner of our small, partly shaded garden, where only cucumbers had been planted.

These small, deep-brown, oblong potatoes, when baked, were absolutely delicious, hot or cold. They had that true potato taste.

The three plants that produced them did not sprout from the previous year's overlooked potatoes because we hadn't planted potatoes for at least two years. But weeks before we planted the cucumbers we buried skins, rinds, lawn rakings, and the like, in foot-deep, not quite as wide holes in that corner of the garden.

About that time we had been enjoying potato- and-leek soup -- largely Russet Burbanks which had been peeled very, very thin. Thus, the contents of the holes were a mixture of grapefruit rinds, banana skins, eggshells, nut shells, grounds , and thin peels, topped with more than 6 inches of loose soil.

By the time we sowed the cucumbers, the soil had settled, so we just raked and sowed.

Nothing bothered the three vigorous potato plants. We dug them too soon, however, because three weeks later the potatoes might have been much larger.

Some years back, before chemicals were widely used on the garden, we visited a hilltop farm in central Maine. The farmer's son, not yet in high school, had a flock of sheep. He began dinner with potatoes, had potatoes for his mian course, and finished with potatoes. He certainly enjoyed his Green Mountains.

"The indifference of the American palate and the buying habits of our grocery shoppers long since reduced our gustatorial quality, and today hardly anybody knows what a Green Mountain is," Maine native John Gould once wrote in the Monitor.

Until I tasted the unplanted potato, I missed Green Mountains. Now this superior potato of mine -- and I haven't the vaguest idea what kind of potato it is -- makes me forget the Green Mountain -- almost.

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