Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Forking and Groveling OR Don't Fear the Potato

Oh, Potatoes! Potatoes! Say it loud and there's music playing, say it soft and it's almost like praying...

Dear Reader, I would like to relate a short anecdote about a dish I made. In this dish were the following ingredients: quinoa, kale, tomatoes, onions, some olive oil, and little bitty pieces of potatoes. It sounds simple but it is out of control delicious. I made a bunch, ate some, put the rest in a bowl for the next morning.

Next Morning: Open the fridge. My beautiful bowl of food which I so lovingly prepared has been decimated. Kale: Gone. Onion: Gone. Tomato: Gone. Little Quinoa Sprouts: Gone. All that linger are the potato bits, clustered together at the bottom, shell shocked by the ravaging of their cohorts. Perhaps tormented by the guilt of survival.

Of course I experienced the usual rage that comes with finding your roommate has eaten sustenance you set aside for yourself. Of course! But the insult to the injury was leaving the potatoes behind, like they were something tainted and wrong. So agonizingly wasteful. Since that day I have been determined to spread this life changing message: DON'T FEAR THE POTATO!!!

Potatoes do not make you fat. Bread does not make you fat. Pasta does not make you fat. A constant buffet of these things with no vegetables, lots of sugar, and mostly fried WILL make you fat. But as a part of a balanced diet-a small component of a dish with many healthy ingredients like kale, quinoa, onions, tomatoes for instance-they can be quite good for you. Potatoes thicken soups. Absorb flavor. Chock full of vitamins. Easy to store. What I'm trying to say is stop ruining my cooking.

Since I have friends and apparently roommates who have no interest in potatoes it's hard to find a place to talk about my love. Which is why blogs are great. I can just get it out there! An alternative to blogging is farming and Frosty Morning Farms grows lots and lots of potatoes. When I was first there the potato plants were all leafy and tantalizing. I kept insinuating we should just rip them right out of the ground now and I'd make some soup. But no, there were still flowers on there, still secret rooty things happening underground and the only things I could do in the potato patch was weed or squash potato bugs. WITH MY HAND. THEIR INSIDES ARE ORANGE.

After days of coming back covered in dirt and bug juice with nothing to show for it I had begun to resent those plants a bit. When I revisited the farm in September I was hoping to even the score, pull them up and mash them good. What I saw was shocking. Those proud plants had fallen, limp and brown to the ground. Around them the weeds had taken over (yay, more weeding!) and it was hard to tell where the rows had been.

If, like me, you've never harvested potatoes you probably have visions of pulling up a plant with lots of nodules just hanging off it waiting to be plucked. Or you have no idea where potatoes come from and don't really care but I'm about to tell you anyway, so suck it. Basically the potatoes are taken out through a process Allison called Forking and Groveling. If you're lucky enough to have two people to share the work, one will use a pitchfork to gently loosen the earth while the other (kneeling on the ground) runs their hands through the soil trying to differentiate the potatoes from lumps of earth or rocks. You have to be careful not to make two many cracks in the soil ahead of where you're groveling because the best place to store the taters till you need them is in the earth unless you're prepared to lug bushels to the root cellar. And cracks let in sunlight. Which ruins them! Don't eat a green potato, it has been exposed to the sun and is not good for you. If it has little eyes though, it's fine.

SO that's the boring story. I asked Allison if the word groveling came from the way potatoes are picked, grovel=down in the dirt at someone's feet, but when we did a bit of a search there was no indication of where the expression came from. We all grovel sometimes without knowing why, I guess...

My back broken from alternately forking and groveling we carried loads of fingerlings and yellow potatoes back to the farmhouse to be washed and sorted by size. There were also a few Magic Molly's, an 'experimental' (F.M.F. sometimes runs tests on new plants to see how they do organically and what kind of tastiness they produce) potato that comes in a deep beautiful purple. I snuck some in a bag and plan to plant them this spring and fork and grovel on my own. That night I made an amazing potato, carrot and celery soup with goat yogurt to make it creamy and full of all the dried spices Allison grows around the house. Yay!

Usually I try to tie in my mundanities with some pretentious conclusion I've drawn about life into an annoying package. This, however, is a simple message coming from a heartfelt place. Don't fear the potato. It's more afraid of you than you are of it...that's why it's hiding underground.

P.S. Fun fact. In upstate New York they have a dish called simply Salt Potatoes. The area used to have many salt mines and the workers would throw their potatoes into the vats of boiling salt then fish 'em out and chow down. Nowadays the tiny round taters featured above sell at a higher price to make this 'delicacy'. Funny how time makes all things for the rich. Except being poor.

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