Monday, June 30, 2008

For the love of the treasure chest of a potato plant

You would never think potatoes could be so much fun. But here I am, singing the praises of the spud and dirty fingernails.
Ask my kids their favorite way to eat potatoes, and shockingly enough they won’t say French fries. They won’t say mashed potatoes, baked potatoes or even potato soup.
They’ll tell you that they like the “outside kind.”
I should provide some background and say that my thumbs are only partially green. Growing up, we always had a plentiful garden and I can remember canning beans and peppers with my family. I loved working in the garden and did it quite a bit, so my vegetable thumb is pretty green. But my pretty flower landscaping thumb really could use some help; I would say it is half green and half brown, which is coincidentally the color of the half dead trees in my front yard.
But veggies I can grow.
Because of how our home is situated with lots of surrounding trees, we don’t have a good place for a traditional garden. It was definitely a downside when we moved in. But as I always say, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and if there’s a way, it just might mean growing potatoes in your flowerbed.
Or at least they grow in mine. For the last three years, we’ve grown just a few potato plants right in the flowerbed next to the black-eyed susans and the lilac bush. Aesthetically speaking, they provide great green foliage in cute little bush shapes all summer long. Tastefully speaking, there’s nothing like a homegrown redskin.
This year, keeping up with our tradition, we planted six potato plants and for some reason decided to name them. Salty, Fattie, French Fry, Tater, Spuds and Willie (as in “One-Eyed Willie” for all those Goonie fans out there) were all planted with care and blessings for a bountiful harvest. We check them regularly and keep a close eye out for the blight—with a good Irish name like McAllister we think we’re suckers for a potato famine.
And hopefully if all goes well, we’ll have a hearty crop when it comes time to treasure hunt.
It always surprises me how many people I meet that don’t know the sheer and utter joy in digging potatoes. For those who don’t know how potatoes work, they grow underground like roots, hidden by the soil. So when you come across a potato plant at picking time, you never know how many you’re going to find and each potato is like a little valuable pot of gold.
In late summer, we head out the door carrying our shovels and buckets and tear up the flowerbed with all of our might. We dig and dig and then gently excavate each potato with care and precision. And we can’t help ourselves, cheering and throwing up our dirt-covered hands in excitement every time we find another one, amazed at the size of something that was hiding just a few inches below our feet all summer long.
Never really sure of the fate of the new found potatoes, I can guarantee that if my kids have their druthers, we’ll be frying them up in a cast iron skillet over a campfire, the “outside kind” as they say.
Astonishing, at such a young age they already have a refined palate for truly good food, seasoned perfectly with butter, salt, and perhaps even a little dirt.

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