I do not have a green thumb. In fact, all of my plants die. It doesn’t seem to matter how diligently I follow the instructions about water and sunlight, or check the dampness of the soil to see if it’s time to water again, or talk to them, or sing to them, or play their favorite composer for them. I’ve even gone so far as to name my plants in hopes of fostering a more personal connection with them, but alas, they all seem to meet the same dire, untimely fate. I know this, and yet I still find it difficult to come to terms with their demise, leaving them to sit on a windowsill or mantle, a dessicated display of my horticultural ineptitude. "I'm so sorry," I telepathically will them to know every time I look at the plant that once was. “Poor bastard. I should have known better.” I lament for them, shaking my head, wondering what kind of monster I am to have allowed such a thing to happen.
Which is why, as I sat in the front row of the classroom (because I’m that person) on the first day of Ecology of Food back in May, I was horrified when the instructor rounded us up to head on down to the garden, where (GASP) we would be spending the majority of our class time growing and tending to our very own plants. The dread set in. I was going to fail this class. My GPA was going to tank. I’d never be able to get into grad school if I decided I wanted to. I was going to have more dead plants weighing on my conscience and keeping me awake in the early hours of the morning when my alarm would go off soon but not so soon that I couldn’t get a little more sleep, if only my mind would stop dwelling on every past failure including but not limited to the avocado plant, the ficus, two hydrangeas, a few Norfolk pines, and the grim silhouettes of many others past and surely yet to come that have had the great misfortune of having fallen into my care.
Down in the garden, my classmates were all buzzing with a cheerful excitement amongst the empty garden beds that would soon be our plots, inflated with hopefulness and rifling through packets of seeds to choose from with innocent abandon. I seemed to be the only one concerned that any efforts put forth in the garden would only prove to be Sisyphean. People were choosing their plants quickly, and I stood there, awkwardly and in denial that this was really happening. The instructor was writing down who was responsible for which plants. I became anxious. What was I going to choose?!
“Beets!” Taken. “Carrots!” Taken. “Radishes?!” Taken. Panicked, I looked down on the bench and saw several bags of seed potatoes. “Potatoes?”
“Potatoes!” the instructor repeated back to me. “Potatoes are awesome, and no one’s chosen them yet. We need one more person on potatoes. Who else wants to be on potatoes?” Crickets. Probably for the best, I thought to myself, as I instinctively began mourning the potatoes preemptively. But suddenly a hand shot up, and I had a potato growing partner, Gabby. We had worked together before, in our intro to Applied Food Studies class where we were teamed up on an ancient recipe reproduction of something ambiguously titled garden turnips broth from Mesopotamia, and it had turned out pretty well, if I do say so subjectively myself. Maybe this potato growing thing would be alright.
We spent the better part of three months down in the garden. The cool mornings of spring were ousted by the blazingly hot days of summer while the Hudson River silently churned just within view and bald eagles flew overhead. It was so beautiful down at the garden that one could forget what they were there to do and idle away the day on one of the benches. But alas, there was work to do. The whole process was relatively simple: chitting, planting, watering, weeding, hilling and re-hilling our potatoes. We planted La Rattes and Bananas, both fingerling varieties, as well as the raison d’être for this post, the Red Golds. It was a transformative experience and I’m now a bona fide gardener and terrific tender of plantkind. Just kidding. I’ve since somehow terminated a bay leaf plant that was given to me as a gift upon graduating in July. I’m sorry, Mom. I swear I tried. I gave it sunlight and I watered it—but not too much! I just don’t know what happened.
The truth is, I was amazed at how the potato plants really seemed to thrive all on their own, even surviving a siege from the hideous Colorado potato beetle. I shudder to think of them even now. They were utterly repugnant and had to be removed by hand. Hundreds, neigh, thousands of them. By. Hand.
I will say it was worth it though. The Red Golds were early harvest potatoes and I was so happy to haul some of them away with me before I graduated. I kept them tucked in a bag and placed in the darkest corner of my countertop, behind the fortress of utensils where light seldom pierces until recently, when I decided it was finally time to enjoy the harvest. I thought of all the things I could do with them, my very own potatoes, and then decided that I’d like to just prepare them very simply. They were halved, roasted, and finished with fresh sage, thyme, and rosemary. These had the best of both of the potato worlds being crispy and golden on the outside while the texture inside was creamy with an earthy and mildly sweet flavor. These would make a fantastic accompaniment to your breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Although this is less of an actual recipe and more of a guideline for simple roasted potatoes, there are still some fundamentals to glean from here. Potatoes come in many different varieties and the levels of moisture and starch vary from one to the next. This means that when it comes to cooking potatoes it’s important to take into consideration what cooking method will yield the best results based on the potato you are working with. For example, the russet is a low moisture/high starch potato and as such is best suited to dry heat cooking methods like baking, roasting or frying to make things like gnocchi, baked potatoes, and french fries. Proving that these rules are not absolutes, the russet and other low moisture potatoes are ideal for purees in which case they are boiled first. High moisture/low starch potatoes, such as chef and new potatoes lend themselves to the moist heat cooking methods of boiling or steaming for dishes like potato salad or soups and stews. Yellow fleshed or gold potatoes as well as fingerling potatoes tend to straddle the line and are versatile in that they fare well in both dry and moist heat cooking methods.
Roasted Red Gold Potatoes
Below are some photos of the potato plants in various stages of growth. As part of the whole process we had to monitor and keep records of the plants, as well as submit a sketch of our garden plot, which is also down below. All of this information as well as a good amount of research turned into the final project for the course, both of which, I am elated to report, garnered A's even without me being planted in the front row of a classroom.
Well hello! I'm Kat, and
I'm always either cooking or thinking about what I want to cook next. For me, food is always about so much more than just my next meal. This is a place for sharing stories and recipes from a life lived through the lens of food...