The Milkweed Diaries

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Potatoes Galore. . .

This morning I dug the last of our late potatoes, the German Butterballs. For readers who are not in Western NC, let me set the scene: the sky is that pure, clear, crisp blue that I have never seen anywhere but in the mountains of North Carolina on a clear fall day. There is an occassional breeze, and the temperature is holding steady at seventy degrees. The dogwood leaves are dark, dark red, and the red maples are just starting to turn a brilliant scarlet. In other words: its an absurdly beautiful, perfect fall day in the mountains.

I am reluctant to spend much time inside at all on a day like today, but I've been meaning to post about growing potatoes. Since I dug some this morning, and since we sold five varieties at the West Asheville market yesterday, it seems like a good time to talk taters.

Here are the potato varieties that we grew this year:


A very old heirloom grown by the people of the Makah Nation in the Pacific Northwest for at least 200 years. According to Makah lore, this potato was brought by Spanish explorers to the Neah Bay area of what is now Washington State.

This knobby, nutty variety was unknown outside the Makah culture until the 1980s, when it was introduced to the wider growing and eating public. It is still not widely cultivated, though Slow Food USA has partnered with the Makah nation to preserve and promote the variety (more here).

You can read more on Ozette at a very informative blog I recently discovered, Vegetables of Interest.

I am a sucker for a good heirloom story, and on top of its storied past, Ozette has a rich, distinctive taste and impressive productivity in the garden. We will be growing this variety again.


This just might be my favorite variety that we grew this year. I love everything about Huckleberry. It is productive, beautiful, tasty, and it has a great name. Huckleberry is pinky-red on the outside and stained with shades of light and dark pink inside.

Cutting open a Huckleberry potato is a delightful sensual experience--first there is the aesthetic pleasure of all of the pinks; then there is the buttery feeling of the knife slipping easily through Huckleberry's smooth, creamy flesh.

We had some incredible potatoes au gratin with Huckleberry potatoes, and they were heartily enjoyed roasted, baked, and in salads all summer long.

Purple Peruvian

Seed Savers Exchange describes this variety as "a treasured, traditional variety from the Andean Highlands."

Treasure is just the right word: harvesting Purple Peruvian potatoes is like discovering clusters of fat purple gemstones in your garden. At first hard to see when you're digging because of their dark color, these potatoes glow with an almost iridescent purple sheen once the dirt is polished off of them.

As if that's not enough: when you slice one open, the purple and white patterns almost look like a crystalline structure. They're so beautiful that it almost wouldn't matter to me what they taste like. But their flavor is excellent and they have a lovely creamy texture.

La Ratte

A French heirloom fingerling, La Ratte was extremely productive in our garden.

It looks, feels, and tastes buttery and smooth. The feeling of biting into one of these fingerlings baked is delightful.


Maris Piper

The jury is still out on Maris Piper in our household. We may try growing it again because less than perfect growing technique (we harvested too late) caused a fair amount of scab on this variety. It has a lovely flesh, though, and was fairly productive.

Rose Finn Apple

With a rosy exterior that is sometimes described as "blushed" and creamy yellow flesh, this is a very pretty potato, and has a distinct and delightful taste.

It's a rare and unusual variety, referred to by Abundant Life as a "precious heirloom." I love Rose Finns baked with a little butter or olive oil. We will grow them again.

Early Rose

An 1861 heirloom from Vermont, this potato is really only slightly rosy, with pinkish spots around the eyes. Early Rose is a good old fashioned standard potato. The Maine Potato Lady calls Early Rose "one of the founding potato varieties of this country." Apparently, Early Rose is the parent of many of the more common commercially available potato varieties. We found it to be a nice, basic, versatile potato. However, it is not keeping well compared to some other varieties, so I recommend growing Early Rose for eating within a month or so of harvest rather than using it as a storage potato.

All Red

This variety is the all-time favorite potato of one of my heroes, food historian, seed saver, and gardener extraordinaire William Woys Weaver (you can read Weaver's praise of and musings on All Red in his book, "100 Vegetables and Where They Came From" or online here). All Red, also known as Cranberry Red, is a fine variety--particularly enjoyable at the moment when you cut it open, the knife slicing through its buttery texture, and see the beautiful blushing pink color inside. We will grow All Red again.

Yukon Gold
We either ate or sold all of the Yukon Golds that we grew before I had time to take a picture. So I guess that tells you something.


Carola is a pretty white-skinned, yellow-fleshed potato that has made great soups and home fries this year. It was very popular at the tailgate market, perhaps because it has that familiar, standard potato look. It's a bit softer, creamier, and more thin-skinned than the typical baking potato, though. Carola's skin has a really nice crunch when eaten unpeeled in potato salad. The plants also produced a good quantity of nice new potatoes fairly early.

Digging Ozettes

We ordered all of our seed potatoes from Ronniger Potato Farm which carries a lot of heirloom varieties, and has decent prices for organic seed potatoes (especially compared to the outrageous prices that some outlets like Seeds of Change charge for organic seed potatoes). Eliot Coleman recommends Wood Prairie Farm out of Maine as his favorite source for organic seed potatoes, so we may order a few varieties from them this year.

So there you have the potato wrap-up...happy fall!

Potatoes on Foodista: Potato on Foodista


Aimee said...

This was my first year growing potatoes, and they did very well. I envy your variety! I will definitely try the ozettes if I can find them, as they are local to my neck of the woods. I grew yukon golds too and they are delish. German butterballs are about my favorite potato I've tried - I will do some of those next year too. Thanks for all the great pics!

Milkweed said...

Thanks, Aimee - Seed Savers Exchange has Ozettes in their catalog I think...and we got ours from Ronningers.

jack-of-all-thumbs said...

Many, many thanks for an informative assessment of the different varieties and a choice of sources. We had a 'successful' harvest this year, which encourages me to expand for next year.

el said...

Hah, Milkweedy, you're growing many that I have grown. Aren't the Huckleberries fun? I grew them for the first time this year (got them in a seed trade, well worth it) and am very happy with them. Some others, well...I am the WORST as far as organizing storage goes: if it's of a certain size, it goes in a certain bin, so at this point I can't tell some of them apart at all. Ah well. Things like All Reds and All Blues are easy, but if you're also growing Purple Peruvian Fingerling AND some regular reds? It's trouble.

I've about given up on fingerlings though they hate our soil so much.

Looks like you've got lots of potatoes coming up for dishes this winter! Winter is the only time I make potato bread (with the water from boiled potatoes).

Thinking about your cookstove, with envy!