January 1, 1970There are very few loves instantly identified. But it is easy to remember the very moment I fell in love with new potatoes. It was a cool day in the countryside around London. The friend I was staying with suggested we go to a you-pick-it farm for our vegetables.
We went into the farm shed and rooted around baskets full of small potatoes. Falling to the bottom were the tiniest of new potatoes, thumb-sized, oddly shaped. We scooped them up, taking the smallest of them into our opened bags. Her small son kept pulling them out from the bags to look at them, marveling that they were marble-sized, but not round. It was my introduction to fingerling potatoes.
We took them to her home and washed them, barely scraping off the delicate skin before boiling them briefly. We tossed the drained potatoes with butter, a little salt and pepper. We binged on them -- that is all we ate for dinner. They were truly apples of the earth, and were totally satisfying. (Her son, a strapping lad of 18, visited my husband and I a few weeks ago, and at 6 ft.apparently hardly suffered from a night of just potatoes.)
Since then my love has been unabashed. I have fallen for purple (usually called blue), red, white, and yellow potatoes. I love nothing more than serving them all together, a cascade of colors.
Karen and Daniel Kennertly on Wadmalow Island, regularly at the Charleston Farmer’s Market, have joined a project inititated by Dr. Richard Hassell of the Clemson Research Center. (Dr. Hassell was not available for comment.) Part of it is to get this area identified with growing potatoes again, as Daniel Kennertly’s father did when Daniel was a boy. His father had 30-40 acres just for supplying enough potatoes for a potato chip company. “ In fact,” Daniel says, “at one time Charleston grew more potatoes than camelias.”
The potatoes the Kennertly’s grow and sell at the Farmer’s Market are as varied as camelias. They grow 12 varieties, from seeds from all around the country. They have ones where the potato outside is red, middle is gold; red/white is red on outside white on inside like a sheet of potato; all blue - blue skinned and blue purple on inside. They are so experimental there re no names yet, just numbers. The one Mr. Kennertly likes best is red on the outside and red on the inside. The ones they are selling now are from the May crop, kept cold until sold.
Celeste Alper’s stand, just down from the Kennertly’s at the market, also sells local new and small potatoes from the Spring crop. Celeste says she has a different favorite for every year, but her all around favorite is the Ozette (also called “Swedish Peanuts”.) It’s a knobby, funny potato like a jerusalem artichoke, and has an incredible flavor.
Celeste, too, grows 12 varieties. They vary from year to year, depending on the growing conditions. She has a couple of yellows, a couple of the red fleshed, and one blue one. The Red thumb, which is red inside, is a fingerlng, so called because it is shaped like a finger rather than being round or oval. Other reds are the Huckleberry and Cranberry potatoes. She also sells the” All Blue” which is more like regular Idaho -- drier flesh --- and is used for blue potatoe chips. Peruvian blue, an heirloom potato from Peru, doesn’t do well here.. (Our environmnet typically is different than Peru.)
When Celeste and I were discussing our mutual love of these little nuggets of taste, we both agreed that new potatoes were great for snacking, and much better for you than something fried. I have long kept a jar of the “Italian Herbed Potatoes” (See recipe) in my refrigerator to deter me from the cookie jar. One potato can satisfy me more than a package of Thin Mints.
If all goes well, Charlestonians will have a special Thanksgiving or Christmas treat -- another crop of new potatoes. Both Celeste Alpers and the Kennertly’s are planting again soon, eager to put some creamers on our tables for the holidays. Fortunately, the Farmer’s Market will still be open.