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Produce Profile by Mark "Guido The Gardner" ® Ferro
New Potatoes
So what's new? Well Produce Profilers, potatoes are new! New as in freshly harvested, but not new as in history.

It is thought that potatoes were some of the first foods cultivated by our hungry ancestors. The birthplace of Solanium tuberosum seems to be the Andes mountains of South America, where historians believe they were first cultivated between 7-10,000 years ago. Now that's some history!

Lucky for those Andes dwellers that potatoes are so nutritious, seeing as very little foodstuff can grow at 15,000 feet. The other staples of the day, corn and wheat conk out at that elevation.

Check your freezer. Any frozen crinkle fries hiding out in there? That chilly preserving process occurred naturally in the Andes. Harvested potatoes would be left whole or sliced and left out in the freezing air. The frozen potatoes, called chuno, served as a staple food item, much like corn or beans at a lower elevation.

Potatoes became fairly common in the Americas, but didn't surface in Europe until the early 1500's. The seagoing explorers of the day get credit for spreading the potato word from South America. And although there is some evidence that spuds were previously introduced to the US, they really didn't catch on here until the early 1700's. That is when some newly arrived Irish folks, laden with a stash of spuds, settled in New England. Potato growing, and eating, caught on quickly after that.

One of the reasons that spuds are so popular, besides the obvious pluses of flavor and nutrition, is that they store well. This enables potatoes to be harvested over a short period of time, but be sold over a much longer time frame. It is not uncommon for them to be stored for many months. Now one mitigating factor is that potatoes are grown in many parts of the country during different times of the year, so there is fairly rapid turnover from one new crop to another.

NOW is a great time for spud seekers because California's crop is just out! Hence the term "new potatoes". New as in freshly dug, primarily from Kern county. Some folks figure that any small potato is a "new" one. Not the case. A new potato can be any size, the requisite is that it be freshly harvested.

There are many advantages to fresh dug spuds. They have a higher moisture content, thinner skins, they cook quicker, taste sweeter and look prettier to boot!

The most common color is the red potato, of which there are many different varieties. Not so common, but just as tasty are white rose potatoes. At one time, these were the King of the (potato) Hill, but the reds have far surpassed them in popularity. I have a few theories as to why ...
1) red anything sells better, like red peaches and nectarines.
2) White potatoes will turn green when exposed to any kind of light. This makes the whites show their age much sooner than do reds.
3) Reds add a splash of color to dishes.

A newer entry is the Yukon Gold. As the name suggests, it blew in from Canada around 1980 and has gained in popularity ever since. The exterior is a pale yellow color and the flesh is yellow /gold. The texture is moist and somewhat waxy like the others, but the flavor is butterier. This spud should have a "Try Me" tag located over every brimming display of Yukons!

Another yellow variety is the Yellow Finn which has a nutty flavor and firm texture. These potatoes come in three sizes-A is large (but not as large as a large russet). B is medium, C or "creamer" are the small ones. There is no difference in flavor, although you may have a personal choice depending on what kind of dish you are fixing.

The least expensive ones are the A's and the creamers fetch the big money. The creamers are the ones that the gourmet trade made so popular. Years ago they were "small potatoes", worthless! Growers used them as hog feed because everyone wanted BIG potatoes. What a difference a couple of good reviews make.

Fresh dug potatoes will be firm with tight, paper thin skins. A couple of days ago I rubbed the skin off a red A with my thumb! Please don't be scared off by the resulting scarring which can occur. Don't buy a white or Yukon that shows "greening", but if it happens at home just peel the offending color off and you'll be fine. This greening happens when they are exposed to any kind of light.

The golden rule is to store potatoes in a cool, dark spot. Let's break some rules! I store roasters in the refer without any ill effects. In fact, stored below 45 degrees, the starches turn into sugar ... hey, that's a sweet potato!

In cooking, stay away from boiling them. In fact stay away from boiling anything as you lose lots of nutrients into the boiling water. Steam, bake, roast or even grill over the fire. Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, onions, garlic and fresh herbs of any sort are potato friendly.

These are available conventionally or organically grown. Farmers Market may even open your eyes to other gourmet type tubers like fingerlings, German Butterball, Bintje, Red Huckleberry and the more common blue potato. So do some experimentation.