Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Micro potatoes vs. sweet potatoes

    The first Thanksgiving celebrated survival and agrarian guile. With the help of charitable natives, the pale-skinned aliens were able to exhale and rejoice, having made a life on and with foreign soil.

      So it is with my family this past year. We did much the same, survival-wise on alien land, even if this technically is native soil for us. So, we celebrate.

      We were just your typical foreigners from Texas when we arrived over a year ago. Though two of us had been born here many harvests ago, we walked lightly, with wide eyes, on the newfound plain.

      Now we've had a full complement of Rocky Mountain seasons, and have done what settlers do — settled.

      One thing we did this year that was totally foreign to us was grow food.

      Never did a spare moment allow something like that back in Texas. Most of the time was devoted to growing children. Yes, Becky planted trees in the yard in Waco. We grew geckos on the window screens. We birthed generations of kittens in our hedge. Not exactly agriculture, though.

      Planting a garden wasn't my idea, understand. Becky and Rob sprung the notion with spring. Then they tilled the Colorado soil.

      In a small patch out in our big back yard, they grew spinach, broccoli, carrots, pumpkins, green peppers and more. And in a particular nod to her roots in Southern Colorado, Becky planted potatoes.

      She had some expertise to tap, having driven a spud truck during a long-ago harvest in Monte Vista, having flagged crop dusters one summer, and having had a fanatical gardener of a father.

       My father was pretty much the same — a maniac — about gardening. I pretty much stayed away from it unless a stray baseball found its way into the pumpkin patch.

         Hell, I couldn't tell you how a potato was conceived and/or born. That is, until this year. Now I know. It's amazing!

         And get this. You pull 'em out of the ground and — after you wash the dirt off and boil or bake or fry 'em — you can eat 'em. Kid you not.

         At this point, having read the heading of this entry, you are saying: "OK, get to it — the yearly slam on sweet potatoes. Come on; get it out of your sorry system."

         Well, here's the thing. I still hate sweet potatoes, just as much as I did, oh, 48 years ago or whenever the orange matter first invaded my gullet. I would never make that mistake again.

         But having witnessed the horticultural miracle of potato birth, I am in a much more charitable mode toward tubers in general this harvest time.

         I'm going to tone it down and instead evangelize for something wonderful: micro potatoes.

         It has never been true that I've been anti-sweet potato. I'm definitely pro-sweet potato. I'm just not pro-put-in-your-mouth-and-swallow-sweet potato. I tried that once. Once.

          I have brought many good purposes for sweet potatoes to readers' attention: ink, ethanol, plastic, dog treats, food for livestock. I reported on the use of sweet potato peelings to attack poisonous mill tailings up in the hills of Colorado — yes, one poison leaching out another.

          This Thanksgiving I'm just going to focus on something positive, on 100 percent edible wonders coming from this green Earth: teeny, tiny potatoes.

          When we grew our first crop of potatoes, we figured they'd come out looking like, oh, what comes through Wendy's drive-through window, minus the chives. A few potatoes of in our garden did. But a whole bunch of them didn't. Some were no bigger than grapes. Some were the size of peanut M&Ms. All were potatoes. All were delicious.

          We didn't let so much as one go to waste. Boiled or fried in their little skins, they were tiny star shells of flavor. The taste treat gave us pause. We wondered why we never saw tiny potatoes in the store. Were we to believe that at major potato farms these teeny potatoes just went back into the soil or got reduced to starch? What a loss to humanity.

           The other day I was pleased to see a package of tiny potatoes at the store. Latter, when I googled "tiny potatoes," I found recipe after recipe — even an industry term for them: fingerlings.

           As you can see, I have managed to distract you entirely from the orange side dish you were contemplating for this year's Thanksgiving feast, you who remain resistant to the simple message: Sweet potatoes aren't meant as food, at least for those of us who dine this high on the food chain.

           But micro potatoes, yes. True food. Nature's  surprise.

           It almost makes one want to be out at the garden plot and observe when the season arrives and the potatoes are mating.

  Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

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