Sunday, January 31, 2010

Home Grown "New Potatoes"

Here is my original version of an article that The St. Pete Times ran heavily edited in 2004.


Has a fine restaurant ever indulged you in the tender savory heaven of "new potatoes" in a garlic or cream sauce? Did you marvel at the tissue thin skins and the melt-in-your-mouth texture of each blissful bite? Did you choke when you got the bill? Central Florida’s balmy winter months beg you to see how easy it is to grow those gourmet delicacies in a sunny 4' X 4' foot garden. And the planting part is perfect for young children to help and thus learn where food really comes from....soil, not fluorescent lit, air-conditioned produce departments!

Potatoes like slightly acid soil rich in organic matter and sun all day long. Cover the soil in that 4 foot by 4 foot garden with an inch of compost, home made or bagged, 10 pounds of alfalfa pellets (sold in 50 lb. bags in feed stores) and 10 pounds of cheap dry dog food nuggets that will feed your earthworms and soil organisms first who will then nourish your "new potatoes". Turn this all under into the soil with your shovel, water deeply, then mulch the soil with 4-6 inches of raked up leaves or "coastal hay" from a feed store. Let it "ripen" for 1-2 weeks as autumn temperatures continue to cool (Taters hate our summer humid heat).

Then use both hands to part the mulch as you would hair with 2 combs to create 3 parallel rows about a foot apart. You’ll end up with the soil exposed to a width of about 6 inches for each row, with mulch piled up between those rows. Use your hand or a trowel to make holes about 4 inches deep and a foot apart so that each row has 4-5 evenly spaced holes when you are done. If you have a large vegetable garden, "stagger" your harvest by planting a new row every three week from October through early March.

Let your kids drop a starter potato into each 4 inch deep hole hole, then cover it up. Some folks swear by "seed potatoes" either mail order or from feed stores, but THIS tightwad uses only potatoes that have sprouted while in storage in my kitchen. ‘Golden Yukon’ makes perhaps the best "new potatoes" but any sprouted ones will work, like ‘Idaho’ or red-skinned potatoes. I have even bought those radical "blue potatoes" now showing up in the gourmet section and planted those. Large potatoes that have sprouted can be cut into fourths, allowed to dry a day in the shade, then planted. Spread the mulch back out into an even layer all over the garden and water deeply as potatoes like rich, damp cool soil.

In a few weeks you and the kids will thrill to see those first hopeful looking shoots emerge, and as they unfold and grow they will remind you of the tomatoes that potatoes are related to. Potato leaves are toxic; never eat them! About 2 months later white flowers will emerge on the now-husky plants, and as they fade, just fish around in the soil around each potato plant with your hand and use your fingers to find plum sized "new potatoes" by Braille a few inches down. Or use a pitchfork to lift up the entire plant and shake off the soil to reveal your tasty treasure. Rinse them in a colander in the garden then head in to the kitchen!

Drop them whole into clam chowder or cream of mushroom soup. Sautee’ them in garlic and olive oil with a little dill and salt. Simmer them till tender in an Alfredo sauce. You will be spoiled forever, plus you and the kids will see the miracle of old sprouted potatoes that most people discard transforming into gourmet gold!

Hey, life can be fair if we treat ourselves to delicious little victories like these!"

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