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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What Do You Call Potatoes in the Valley…?

P. Alden, potato farmer

My gentle Irish grandmother, paternal, Mary Johnson, nee Egan, County Mayo via Ellis Island, had a riddle she asked her grandchildren countless times: “What do they call potatoes in Ireland?” she’d riddle us. Our young, fresh memories knew the answer, of course, had memorized it long before the umpteenth time the riddle was put to us. We always feigned ignorance, though, because it gave Grandma such pleasure to give us the answer: “They don’t call, em,” she’d chuckle, “they dig ‘em.” Then Grandma’s eyes would disappear in the humor of the moment, and like a little leprechaun, her shoulders would quiver with delight. 

Yes, potatoes were a staple in my grandparents’ diet. Grandpa Mike would hover over my shoulder when I was on potato peeling detail, ever vigilant that I was removing just the peels and not the flesh. You guessed it--the subject of this post is potatoes or “praties,”as the Irish called them-- “spuds,” our nickname for  this starched-charged tuber-- the mainstay of many an  American’s daily diet and because of today’s highly publicized obesity epidemic a much maligned vegetable. To counter the potato’s bad boy image (or is it “potatoe’s? You tell me, Dan Quayle.), Chris “Spuds” Voigt, Executive Director of the Washington State Potato Commission has launched a PR (Potato Relations) campaign in the form of a 60 day potato diet. For the next two months Chris’s daily fare will consist of potatoes only, twenty spuds per day, (Washington grown, of course; none of those tubers from foreign lands like Idaho) prepared without any of the exotic embellishments that boost a baked potato’s obesity factor to stratospheric levels: butter, sour cream, bacon bits, puddles of goopy cheese…. Chris plans to shun these gustatory frills and remain true to the austere 220 calories per medium spud. His only fudge: a little cooking oil, perhaps, for a potato fry. As of this post “Spuds” is ten days into the potato sack. He exits the diet on November 29. Well, at least he’ll be able to adorn his Thanksgiving trencher with a dollop or two of mashed spuds (hold the butter, please)! Simple math tallies the number of ‘taters under his belt  come 11/29 at 1,200. If you have tried one diet after another and are diet-weary, think you just might be interested in a sixty day potato fest (fast??) yourself, check out Chris’s website for an update on his day to day progress or additional tuber details:

I wish Chris the best in his spudfest but now to return to the Valley and spotlight its own Mr. Head potato man, Peter Alden. I passed him the other day just up the road from his home, the old Victorian house south of the upper loop bridge.P. Alden's Victorian In tow was a trailer laden with eight bins of this year’s spud crop. It would take considerable 60 day diets to make a dent in this prodigious concentration of starch. 


spuds, '10

I followed Peter and rig back to the farm to record the event. This year’s growing season has been a farmer’s nightmare, and I asked Peter, given the balky weather, how his potato crop had fared. “Mixed results,” was his reply. “Some fields good; others not so much.” I should have asked him how this year’s yield compared to  last’s when the Valley had an excellent growing season, but given those brimming bins of potatoes, I didn’t think to grill the potato man. I did inquire, however, about the varieties the bins contained: the load was half white potatoes, the other red spuds. “GButterballs and Chieftanserman Butterballs,” Alden said of the white variety. The other four bins held Red Chieftans. Those plump butterballs put me in mind of this year’s Thanksgiving turkey instead of the potential mountains of frenzy-whipped, sour creamed and lavishly buttered mashed potatoes bulging in those four bins. Marketing: it’s all in the name, isn’t it!Red chieftans

I watched Peter forklift a couple bins off the trailer and stow them out of the weather in a large storage shed. forkin' off the crop 


 Storage shed






You know, I just might try that 60 day potato experiment myself. “Spuds” Voigt said after his ‘tateriffic diet, he expects to see an improvement in his blood pressure and cholesterol. According to my last doctor’s visit, it wouldn’t hurt me to lower mine a bit as well. I wonder if Peter Alden would spot me 1,200 spuds for a 60 day potato quest to improve my health? I’d be ready to start, say…the very next day after Thanksgiving.

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