Tater time! It's National Potato Month

Potatoes from Jack's Farm for sale at the Phoenixville Farmers' Market. (Photo by Emily Ryan)

Dan Heckler’s no couch potato.He works hard tending the tasty tubers at Jack’s Farm in North Coventry.

“I just washed a few hundred pounds of potatoes,” he said in preparation for last week’s Phoenixville Farmers’ Market. “Out of a quarter acre, we’ll get two tons of potatoes this year.”

And right now all eyes are on the humble spud. September is National Potato Month.

“Eating-wise, there are hundreds of varieties of potatoes,” explained Heckler. “There are definitely different flavors and textures out there. Every potato is certainly not created equal.”

Here’s another bit of tater trivia: “The first potato that a plant sets underground is always the largest potato, and then they drop in size,” he described. “You sort of have an alpha potato.”

This year, Heckler’s growing six varieties on his certified organic farm, including Kennebec, Red French fingerling and a purple potato called Magic Molly.

“I think one of the great things about the small farms is they grow a variety,” said Liz Andersen of Charlestown Farm in Charlestown Township.

Using organic growing methods, she planted 8,500 lineal feet of potatoes this year with names like Red Norland, Purple Viking and Blue Gold, which has “a blue skin, but it’s got a waxy, moist flesh.”

“For us, this was a big year for potatoes. They like a lot of moisture. We started harvesting about a month ago,” said Andersen, who also coordinates the Phoenixville Farmers’ Market. “The one thing that people might not know is there’s seasonality among potatoes. The early varieties don’t keep as well.”

“I like all potatoes,” she added. “They get a bad rap, but they can be very nutritious. Particularly, there’s a lot of nutrition in the skin. We never peel potatoes.”

One of her favorite recipes is New Potato Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette.

“This salad is wonderful served over lettuce. If you double the dressing and add blanched green beans, tuna and hard-boiled egg, you can transform this simple potato salad into Salade Niçoise.”

As for the prep work, “I like to dice the potatoes before I boil them,” Andersen suggested. “You cook the potatoes in almost no time at all. It also allows for different sizes of potatoes.”

She prefers to dice and quickly boil potatoes before roasting them too.

“It’s not fast food, but it’s faster food,” Andersen joked.

Another easy dish: Crash Potatoes, which are boiled, crushed and then roasted.

“My son made it for the first time,” said Erin Bause of Bause Catered Events in Pottstown. “We’ve been making it ever since. The texture’s really interesting. It’s soft inside, but it gets kind of crispy on the outside.”

The family also enjoys Au Gratin Potatoes, a recipe from her days at Coventry Forge Inn.

“It was the starch they served with all the entrées,” she said.

Whether dressed up or simply baked, potatoes are sure to please. So take some time this September to savor a spud.

Crash Potatoes

12 whole small Red Bliss potatoes

4 tablespoons olive oil

kosher salt to taste

black pepper to taste

1 to 2 tablespoons rosemary (or other herbs of choice)

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add in as many potatoes as you wish to make and cook them until they are fork-tender. This can be done a day in advance.

On a sheet pan, lay down baking parchment and drizzle olive oil. With a potato masher (or the base of a mason jar), gently press down each potato until it slightly mashes. Brush the tops of each crushed potato generously with more olive oil. Sprinkle potatoes with kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper and fresh chopped rosemary (or chives or oregano or whatever herb you have available.) Bake in a 450 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown.

(Courtesy of Bause Catered Events)

Au Gratin Potatoes

2 1/2 pounds bliss potatoes, sliced very thinly (on a food processor or mandolin)

2 cups milk

1 to 2 tablespoons salt

1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons butter

Bring the milk to a scald (almost boiling) in a thick-bottomed pot. Add salt (it will taste very salty). Add potatoes, cover with lid and simmer on medium heat, stirring frequently, until potatoes are three-quarters cooked. Drain potatoes from the milk.

Rub a casserole dish with a clove of peeled smashed garlic, leaving pieces of the garlic in the pan. Rub the pan with butter. Put the potatoes into the casserole dish and pour the cream over top. Dot with butter and bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes until bubbly around the edges (cream reduces) and golden brown on top.

(Courtesy of Bause Catered Events)

New Potato Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

6 to 8 Red Norland potatoes, depending on size

scallions

Dressing:

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 clove garlic, minced finely

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, smooth or whole grain

salt and pepper to taste

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Optional:

Kalamata olives

capers

Dice raw potatoes into 1/2-inch pieces. Cook the potatoes in lightly salted boiling water until they are just starting to become tender (about 5 minutes). Drain potatoes and allow them to cool in a single layer. Slice scallion tips, discarding the green stalks. Mix the dressing ingredients in a jar and shake well. Combine the potatoes and scallions and any other desired additions in a bowl. Toss with the dressing and serve immediately.

Tip: If you want to prepare the salad ahead of time, refrigerate the undressed potatoes and toss with the dressing just before serving.

(Courtesy of Charlestown Farm)

Tater trivia

-The potato originated in the Andes of Bolivia and Peru.

-During the 18th century, people served potatoes as a dessert - hot and salted, in a napkin.

-Britain’s Queen Elizabeth I had a chef who lost his job after he mistakenly served potato leaves instead of tubers.

-Potatoes first became fashionable when Marie Antoinette paraded through the French countryside wearing potato blossoms in her hair.

-Louis XVI of France wore potato flowers in his buttonhole to encourage people to grow them.

-The potato chip was invented in 1853.

Source: Northern Plains Potato Growers Association