The Humble Potato

You might not think a lot about potatoes. They are a humble, ubiquitous staple—the culinary equivalent of socks.

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But what you don’t know about potatoes might surprise you. Hailing originally from Peru, they have been cultivated for thousands of years. There are an estimated 4,500 varieties of potatoes in the world, with 3,800 types still cultivated only in Peru, where potatoes, or “papas,” grow on mountainside plots at up to 18,000 feet in elevation.

More closely related to tomatoes than to carrots, potatoes are a tropical vine belonging to the nightshade family. Potatoes and their tomato cousins have simply been domesticated in different ways–tomatoes to produce large, edible fruit, and potatoes to produce large, starchy roots. Both plants produce the alkaloid solanine, detectable in green, unripened fruit and tubers.

Potatoes

Potato tubers form a thick skin in response to the death of their foliage, which happens naturally each year at the onset of frost. In nature, this signals that winter is approaching, and the potato builds a thick skin to prevent the root’s precious energy from being wiped out to a freeze. The skin increases the storage life of potatoes on your pantry shelf—without a heavy skin, potatoes spoil and rot in a few weeks.

On a farm, of course, the farmer doesn’t wait until the ground is frozen to dig potatoes up, so instead we preemptively kill the foliage, jump-starting the process. Organic farmers do this with mowers or flame torches, while conventional farmers use chemical sprays. Chemical sprays absorb into the soil and coat the potatoes under the earth, making potatoes one of the Dirty Dozen, a list published by the Environmental Working Group of fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of chemical residue detected each year.

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At Garden Treasures, we use flame torches on our potato fields, since burning achieves three ends–it kills the potato foliage, kills weeds and weed seeds, and creates potash, which is stored in the soil and assists in calcium uptake for the next crop.

You won’t find 4,500 different varieties of potato at Garden Treasures, but we grow a healthy array of flavors and types for your culinary delight:

Norkatah Russet—A large white starchy multi-purpose potato used most commonly for French fries.
Russian Banana—A fingerling type of yellow potato for roasting, very flavorful.
Ozette–A small fingerling type with creamy, white flesh. Nutty flavor when roasted.
Yukon Gold—A large yellow wax potato, great for soups and stews.
Purple Majestic—A colorful purple potato with mild flavor for roasting and frying.
Apple Rose Finn—A small pink fingerling type with very smooth texture for roasting whole or sliced.
French Red Thumb—A large red-skinned fingerling type with white flesh for multi-purpose use.

Purple-Potatoes
For comparison, behold a list of Peruvian papas types to whet your appetite, as according to the Peruvian Potato Culinary Encyclopedia:

Papa Canchan — Also referred to as Pink because of its skin color. Known for its texture and flavor and used for stuffed potato recipes.
Papa Tomaza — Also called white potatoes, they are commonly used for frying, including French fries.
Papa yellow — Mostly eaten after boiling. Taste better with sauces and in gravy dishes.
Papa huayro – Absorb heat and are ideal for gravy dishes.
Papa turma — Best when roasted, fried or baked. Lomo saltado is often made using papa turmas.
Black pope – Mild-tasting potato that can be eaten in all forms.
Papa Huamantanga — White potato, similar to yellow potato. Grown in mountains. Can be cooked or boiled for stews and soups.

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With the right skins on them, potatoes will stay fresh and flavorful until each season’s following spring—meaning that potatoes harvested here in Arlington’s fall crop will last you until next March. You can buy a case of dirty potatoes at the farm for just over $1 per pound and enjoy fresh, local flavor at seasonal savings all fall and winter long!

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