Potatoes have always been in our livesWe often hear about food products that are considered the “perfect” food. One of those foods that truly is near perfect is the potato. Humans can actually survive on a diet of potatoes with the addition of milk or butter for a well-balanced diet. Milk and butter contain the two vitamins that potatoes do not contain, Vitamin A and Vitamin D.
We often hear about food products that are considered the “perfect” food. One of those foods that truly is near perfect is the potato. Humans can actually survive on a diet of potatoes with the addition of milk or butter for a well-balanced diet. Milk and butter contain the two vitamins that potatoes do not contain, Vitamin A and Vitamin D.
When you think of all the times we use potatoes in our diets, their cooking diversity isn’t surprising. We use them during our breakfast meal when making hash browns and country-fried potatoes. We commonly eat them during our quick lunches as French fries and tater tots. During our dinners we prepare mashed, baked, scalloped and boiled baby potatoes. We can even order them on appetizer menus as potato skins loaded with cheese, herbs and bacon. With all of these options, it isn’t surprising that this vegetable is the fourth-largest crop produced in the world.
Potatoes have been grown for nearly 10,000 years, beginning in South America in the Andes region and eventually moving to the rest of the continents in the last 400-500 years. Not only have they been grown for many years, but there are anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000 different varieties in the world.
Since this root vegetable is close to perfect in nutritional value, it is no wonder that it has become a food staple for many people around the world. There was a time when this vegetable was known as the poor man’s food as it could be produced well in limited space and could feed and sustain you with essential nutrients and energy levels through carbohydrates. There is a downside for people who are not poor and those who may be inactive: The starches in this vegetable can also cause weight gain if the carbohydrates are not burned off, thus becoming a catalyst in the production of fat cells.
Most of us are familiar with the Great Potato Famine of Ireland, but some of us are still uncertain what happened during that time. The famine occurred as a result of many poor people utilizing the same selection of potato. Since there was not nearly the research performed creating resistant potato selections during that time as there is today, the crop succumbed to late blight. The blight infected the tubers of the potato, which caused them to rot quickly into a putrid mush. Since this was a major food source at the time, millions of people did not survive during the many months that followed. Newer selections have been developed since then, which are much more resistant to this condition, lessening the probability of this type of disaster repeating itself.
Potatoes are typically grown from small potatoes known as seed potatoes. These are usually the size of a tennis ball or smaller. Larger sizes can be cleanly cut and planted into the ground if they have at least two “eyes” or growth zones to produce new plant shoots. Plant the seed potatoes about one inch deep, one foot apart, and in rows that are two to three feet from one another to allow ample room for underground production where the potatoes are formed. As the potato plants grow, mound the dirt up along the sides to prevent any new potatoes from reaching the surface and becoming spoiled from the exposure to sunlight. This exposure to sunlight can discolor the potato skin to a green hue, which contains a toxin that can be harmful to people when consumed.
The plants prefer full sunlight and a well-drained soil that is never soggy. Soggy soils can cause bacteria and promote potential rot in your root crop. The plants will grow to about 2 feet tall and terminate in a blossom cluster. White flowers usually dictate that the selection will produce a white tuber, while pink and purple blooms usually occur on selections that produce a red tuber. Once the plant blooms, the growing portion will begin to yellow and dry. As the season cools and the growing portion dies, the roots begin to develop and expand. A sure sign that your potatoes are ready to harvest is when the plant portion on top is easily pulled from the ground when completely dried. Potatoes are known as a cool weather crop, thus indicating that the product beneath the soil actively grows when temperatures are lower. Even though small potatoes can be harvested throughout the summer months, the main crop is harvested during fall.
Lift the potatoes with a three-pronged fork at least a foot away from the plant as not to pierce a tuber. Lightly shake the potatoes from the ground to remove the dirt and place them into a bin where the outer skins can cure for a few days. When storing the potatoes, place them in a cool, dark area of about 42-50 degrees with a high humidity levels. Good air circulation is always beneficial in storing this root crop. Since potatoes are typically 80 percent moisture, dry conditions will dehydrate the tubers and cause them to spoil.
Common varieties most of us are familiar with are the white selections of Kennebec, goldrush, German butterball and the Dakota pearl. Varieties of the red potato are the red Pontiac, red La Sota, red Norland and blazer russet. There are even some golden selections such as Yukon gold and yellow finn.
Re-establish your relationship with the potato and start growing them in your own gardens. Not only are they rewarding to produce, they are also highly nutritious at only 110 calories for a medium-sized spud. It is not the vegetable that contains bad elements, but all of the additives and extras we put on them that make them less perfect.
Get back to the root of health and begin growing more and more of your own vegetables in the gardens for tasty enjoyment and numerous essential benefits. By growing your own products, you will know exactly what is in the items you harvest and be able to enjoy them that much more.