May, 2010

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Irish Potatoes

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

St. Patrick’s Day is sort of a marker date for me at ‘Blue Pike Farm. It’s after the spring thaw, but before the end of the frost dates. Occasionally the weather is spring-like balmy, luring me out to start prepping for he growing season. Other years it’s cold, wet and blowing. If you have spent the day at the parade and in other celebratory activities you remember the really nasty days you spent on the curb (and I don’t mean that night after partaking way too heavily).

This year it was as nice as any that a I remember.

I spent part of the day ordering potatoes. Of course, given the date they were ‘Irish’ potatoes. And as is usual when you peruse a seed catalogue the choices and descriptions seemed designed to lure me into buying more than I need. It worked like a charm. Again.

Red, white, blue, gold and more colors of the rainbow than you thought possible in a plain, unpretentious tuber.  While I like the colors, my interest in potatoes is mainly in the cooking and my early memories of ‘mom’s’ cooking.

My mother, of Pennsylvania Irish and German stock was a post war bride, and more of the June Cleaver generation than that of Julie Child when it came to working in the kitchen.

That’s not to say my mother couldn’t cook. None of us who ate at her table ever looked like we had passed up a meal in our time. All of us were ‘well fed’ in appearance. Betty was adept at the ‘meat & potatoes’ home style meals my father preferred, and she eventually created a few signature items that appeared at special occasions.  Two involved potatoes. She made mashed potatoes the old fashioned way, from scratch; no boxed versions for her. First, peel and then boil the potatoes, mash them by hand with some tool from her grandmother days, blend butter and a bit of salt with her mixer and there you had it. Home made mashed spuds. My father, ever the critic (but never the cook) rarely missed an opportunity to kid my mom about the inevitable lumps that remained. Like a perfect puree was some sort of standard to strive for. The lumps, of course would distinguish home made from those out of a box.

For some reason I’ve never tried to duplicate her mashed potatoes. I think maybe that is because it seemed like too much work. Ah, but her breakfast potatoes, those were my favorite and I’ve tried and failed to recreate them more times than I care to remember.

Boil the potatoes (skin on), slice and add to a skillet with lots of butter, garlic and onion. Cook over medium heat, turning as needed.

Eventually her potatoes ended up nicely browned, crispy around the edges but with a soft enter. I never hesitated to make sure I got a second helping when she made these. I also never seemed to be able to duplicate her breakfast potatoes whenever I tried.

And it wasn’t for lack of trying. Lord knows I’ve tried. Cast iron skillet, Teflon fry pan, copper clad stainless; none made any difference. Mine attempts always come up short.

So when I was looking at all the potato choices available I was thinking that maybe, just maybe if I used a specialty potato I could change my luck.

I ended up with 6 different varieties this year; some for baking, some for frying, some for mashing. All for eating.  Later this summer I’ll try again. And when I do I’ll be thinking: Mom, this spud’s for you.

Carl Skalak

Blue Pike Farm