On new potatoes

The child budding grammarian stands behind her latest victim

Last week my daughter scolded me on proper gardening terms and techniques.  The conversation went like this:  “Mama, when are you going to unplant those potatoes?”  “Unplant the potatoes?  Do you mean harvest the potatoes?”  She looked at me, exasperated.  “No.  “Harvest” is what we do to peas and artichokes and asparagus.  But we “unplant” the potatoes and carrots.”

And we do.  So schooled.

I am always happy to see volunteer potato leaves poking through the soil.  Yes, they remind me that I am an inveterate potato-misser when I do “unplant” them in the fall.  But even if they disrupt my tedious seedling rows, I know that those vigorous furls of greenery mean a crop of new potatoes for us around the end of June.  There’s nothing like baby potatoes, as that’s what they are:  with skin so thin that even the stream of the hose could tear them, they need gentle treatment.  And their flesh is so crisp and creamy…oh, I love my ground apples.

Here she is with the results of the unplanting (and harvesting in the case of the last peas and garlic scapes)

And so does my family.  Serving them up last week, I reminded everyone that it had been April when the last spud was served.  They hadn’t missed them (though I sure had).

Probably the best treatment for new spuds is cooking them en papillote:  wrapped in an envelope of parchment paper and stuck on a tray in a hot oven, they get steamed AND browned.  I make sure to add a lot of fresh herbs and the fattest grains of sea salt, a twist or five of the pepper mill, and of course our good friends Butter and Olive Oil.  I wish I was a great folder of parchment paper packages.  I have had some dishes served me in restaurants where the paper looked edible all on its own, its caramelized brown-ness, its beautiful folds holding in the moisture.  But I am not, so I resort to the stapler.  Sure, office supplies have a role in the kitchen!  What doesn’t!

Happy un-planting to all of you.

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11 responses to “On new potatoes

  1. Only once did I ever receive concrete recompense for a poem: I won the Washington State Potato Commision’s Potato Poetry Contest, which I entered on a whim. I wrote this poem in about fifteen minutes, and won a basket full of potato-related goodies, including several excellent cookbooks and an apron.

    My dad planted potatoes
    in old tires
    all along the long side of the yard
    and us kids grubbed them up
    all summer.
    Some as small as marbles
    with thin, papery skin
    some bigger than our child-sized fists.
    The clean, cottony inside
    of a baked potato
    is such a surprise;
    or at least it was to us
    who had prized them just that morning
    asleep from the mud.

  2. Haha. We always used to call horse manure ‘ground apples’, but I guess that works for potatoes too!

  3. A stapler!!! Oh, El!

  4. Foil dinners! All those years ago, we were cooking bouef en papillote at Girl Scout camp, not foil dinners! Huh, who knew! Great idea though. I’ve been thinking about new potatoes…..

  5. I’m going to try the parchment potatoes when I “unplant”. What’s an approximate time and oven temp?

    • Hi Elizabeth: well, the 2 times I have made them this year, I made them outdoors in the masonry oven…but barring that one detail, I would say 400 for 20-30 minutes depending both on how many you have and their size. It helps to put the pan on a baking stone if you have one. Fairly squishy instructions; sorry. My cooking is kind of squishy too.

      • I have a baking stone and 1,000 sheets of parchment paper. I’ll give it a try when my potatoes are ready for digging, they are just starting to flower now.

  6. What a lovely poem, Aimee!!

    I like the unplanting and will resolve to allow my volunteers to thrive. Some days the joke is that instead of jewelery or cruises, what I really want for gifts is a restaurant-size roll of parchment paper.

  7. I have had some dishes served me in restaurants where the paper looked edible all on its own, its caramelized brown-ness…

    Two words: Rice paper. 🙂

  8. Thanks to you the term “unplanted” has been used repeatedly in our house this week 🙂 Can’t wait for our first potatoes here, though I admit this is one veggie I do eat unseasonably. This is the first time we’ve really had room to grow some though, so that’s exciting.

  9. Aimee, most excellent potato poem! 15 minutes, eh? You’ll be giving Calvin Trillin a run for his fast-poem money. So: did your poor dad ever actually get to harvest spuds in the fall, or were they all gone by then?

    Daedre, well, goodness, it’s not my invention. The French call them “pommes de terre,” apples of the earth. Personally, I like the term “dirt apples.”

    Sharon, everything’s fair game. Notice the shaker in today’s post: it works both ways…I am all about the greater good of food in our tummies.

    Ali, isn’t it funny? I *loved* camping as a girl scout and I remember well foil dinners! We did it with fish too.

    Stef, I know! Parchment paper here hardly ever gets kitchen use. Often it’s appropriated for art projects. I battle the craft-happy hordes by stocking up, always having a supply of foil, freezer, parchment and wax paper in my basement pantry.

    Andrea, hah, thanks for the reminder. Edible wrappers are good things.

    Sara, it is exciting. Consider the extended land holdings carte blanche to go nuts with potatoes and everything else that suits your gustatory fancy.

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