by Judy Schultz
Planting season makes me think of potatoes, and another of the annual miracles: drop one measly chunk of tuber with two or three eyes into a hole and it will produce an entire hill of everybody’s favourite vegetable.
The first spuds teased from the edge of that hill will be the size of big marbles. Steamed, they’ll taste of summer and the earth that produced them.
If your grandad was a gardener, he likely grew Netted Gems. That was back when a potato was a potato, one variety per garden, maybe two. Enough. Finished.
Not anymore. I recently counted 150 Canada-registered varieties, 27 of them available in one local greenhouse. So many shapes, textures, colours. You have to love a yellow-fleshed, buttery-tasting potato, like the German Butterball. It sounds positively cuddly; built-in-butter strikes me as sheer genius.
Blue potatoes are still a bit of a novelty, like the one called Blue Tomcat. They’re the clowns of the potato world, ready to party. Always floury and high-starch, blue potatoes hold their colour when cooked, so cool chefs have come to love them for cosmetic reasons.
A potato is a fairly amiable vegetable, but a floury spud is best for mashing, and a waxy one works best for salads and hashbrowns. Teeny tiny spuds, a specialty of our own Baby Potato Company,
make fabulous potato salads. Mix all three colours (red, white, blue) with a sharp-spicy dressing, and add a hefty hit of good curry powder. Throw in some pea pods for crunch, and it’s an edible rainbow.
And now for my favourite hashbrowns: boil some waxy red potatoes, skin on, until just tender. As the great Italian cook Marcella Hazan says, “Refrain from prodding them too frequently with the fork!”
After they cool, dice them, along with a small red onion. Fry them in a generous amount of very hot fat – a blob of butter and, ideally, a scant bit of bacon dripping if you have any, for extra flavour. Melt the fat in a dribble of canola oil to raise the smoke point.
Season well with salt. Bash in the pepper and a drizzle of white vinegar, unless you’re British and hanker for malt vinegar, in which case, use it.
Note: the amount of vinegar in these hashbrowns is completely to taste, but it’s the key ingredient. (Think French fries with vinegar.) Finish them with a handful of fresh chives and a sprig of chopped rosemary from your garden. It’s the perfect side on a steak-and-eggs morning.
Final point: have you noticed how many potatoes are named after girls? We have Marilyn and Matilda, Eva, Nicola and Carolina; Reba and Rosemarie; Victoria, Hertha and yes, Ulla. Sadly, no Judy. I figure the potato namers are missing the boat here. Given enough butter, I could live on potatoes.