New Potatoes

I haven’t watered my potato patch but once this season–and then only a few days ago, when I realized that the end of our stretch of extreme heat wasn’t going to give us any rain.

I never got the red potatoes in at all, so all I have is three rows of German Butterballs and two rows of Austrian Crescent fingerlings.

Fingerlings don’t make good “new” or early-harvested potatoes in my experience–you really have to wait for the plants to die down to get tubers of any reasonable size. Then, when they are ready to harvest, their thin skins and tender flesh make them kind of similar to a new potato anyhow.

But they’re not ready now.

Thankfully, the German Butterballs are. They are a yellow-fleshed heirloom variety similar to a Yukon Gold. Yum!

There is no messing about digging in the hills, filching potatoes from underneath live plants like eggs from under a setting hen. If I’m going to have new potatoes, I just go ahead and dig out one whole plant. That way, I’m not disturbing the roots of several plants.

I don’t know if filching potatoes makes much difference to a growing plant, but it just seems to me that it would–even if only a little. It’s a common practice though, so if you have a preference in your own potato patch, do what thou will.

Digging the whole plant also gives me a sense of how well the variety is doing in the rest of the row–if there is a good mess of potatoes under a plant, I expect a better harvest from the row than if I only get a couple measly tubers.

New potatoes have more sugar and less starch than storage (full grown) potatoes. They also have more vitamin C, though I assume a lot of that cooks away. And speaking of cooking–new potatoes are done a lot faster than a full-grown potato. It’s easy to overcook them if you’re not paying attention.

The “B-sized” red potatoes that show up in the supermarkets around this time of year are really not “new” potatoes. New potatoes are special–their thin skins and tender flesh mean they don’t ship well, and they spoil/turn starchy quickly. Find a local farmer or visit your local farmers market if you want the real deal, and cook them as soon as you can.

Most sources say new potatoes are ready to harvest as soon as the plant flowers. I usually wait a bit longer–my potatoes have been flowering for over a month now, and to my mind, the size of the potatoes I’ve got now is just about right.

How to fix them? I say the simpler the better. Steamed with just a little water, or roasted in the oven with nothing but salt, pepper, butter, and maybe just a little parsley. Butter is pretty important in my mind, but use oil if you must. You can toss them alongside a roast for the last half hour of cooking, too.

Whatever you do, save the heavier seasonings for your full-sized potatoes this fall and winter, and savor the bare, earthy flavor of these tender, early gems!

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