Marguerite Gaither gets help bagging up potatoes at the Parkland Fresh Stop Market from her granddaughter.
When you consider the sheer number of varieties that now can be grown, “potato” has almost become a generic word.
There are Red Gold potatoes, Red Norlands, Adirondack Reds (apparently red is a good color for potatoes), Elbas, and Kennebecs, among many other varieties. Rootbound Farm in Crestwood, Ky., grows eight types, all picked for flavor, appearance, use, viability, and even long-term storage.
“Different types of potatoes have strengths that others don’t have,” said Rootbound’s Ben Abell. “Some are bred to be good storage potatoes, allowing us to have them all winter long. Others are bred to be good ‘new potatoes’ by maturing early and maintaining a tender skin.”
And not all potatoes are created equal, at least when it comes to how you plan to prepare them.
“Some potatoes are ‘dryer’ or starchier, like the Kennebecs, and for that reason they are a favorite for french fries,” Abell said. The Adirondack reds are another story; they are great for roasting and also hold a surprise inside. According to Parkland Fresh Stop Market leader and shareholder Cybil Flora, “When I first prepped an Adirondack red potato for roasting, I had no idea the flesh would be red. I thought it was a radish. I had to taste it to know what it was. Now they are my favorite type of potato and I save them for special dishes.”
As an organic farm, Rootbound also must consider what varieties will do better using those growing methods.
“The Elba potato was bred to be resistant to ‘late blight,’ which is a disease that often hits in the later summer,” Abell said. “So, by growing Elba potatoes that time of year, we have a better chance of them surviving and doing well.”
Beyond disease and pests, growing potatoes organically can be challenging.
“We buy ‘seed potatoes’ in the winter and then cut them into smaller pieces and plant those to become our potato plants,” Abell said. “Most readily available conventional seed potatoes are doused with chemicals to help them be resistant from bugs and diseases. While those are certainly helpful things to have, our organic practices mean we do not use chemicals and we need to buy certified organic seed potatoes, and that can sometimes be challenging. We typically order our potatoes from other states like Maine, and they travel a long way to get to us.”
Flavor also plays a role in the types of potatoes Rootbound chooses to grow, as well as color.
“The Adirondack Reds are popular because they have pink flesh,” he said. “A lot of our chef customers like those because they are very interesting looking on a plate.”
And if you’ve ever wondered why Fresh Stop Market potatoes seem dirty when you buy them, it’s not because farmers are lazy. Abell said moisture can breed disease and decay, so most potatoes are better left dry and unwashed until ready to be eaten.
“Potatoes don’t really like moisture; they prefer to be very dry and will last longer that way,” he said. “Throughout the year there are some varieties of potatoes that do better being washed and refrigerated for storage, and other varieties that do better being stored dirty and not refrigerated. We base that decision on the individual needs of the variety, and also the time of year of the harvest and the age of the plant at harvest.”
And like any other vegetable, there is no wrong way to enjoy a potato, but for Abell, he’s on the same page as Cybil: roasted is best.
“Chopped into small squares, tossed with olive oil, garlic, and herbs and then roasted at about 400 degrees for about 40 minutes,” he said. “This yields a crispy and delicious roasted potato!”