In Praise of a Purple Potato

photo, purple majestic potatoes In the last century, (about 12 years ago), Americans discovered there a color palette for potatoes instead of the standard swatch of white . There were always sweet potatoes around, but it took Yukon Golds with slightly yellow color and their buttery flavor, and to break through the American mindset that potatoes only came in white. In a country that perfected the dehydrated potato flake, I guess what else could be expected? Contrast that with Peru, where potatoes originated, potatoes come in a wide spectrum of colors. Check out this gallery from the International Potato Center.

With the interest in heirloom vegetables growing, the idea of potatoes being more than just white, is becoming more mainstream. There still is a lot of people who don't know about anything other than white potatoes.

In the late winter and early spring, the question I get  is "What are you growing this year?" This year, the response included Purple Majesty Potatoes. I got a a good number of responses that were a mix of confusion and intrigue, which is one of the reasons I do what I do. I love that response. It demonstrates an interest in learning about alternatives to what they know. Since people also know that I'm a storyteller, they know there will be a good story for them to listen and learn from.

When I first learned about the Peruvian Blue potatoes, I was surprised. I had only known the white potatoes of my youth. Russets from Maine, and baking potatoes from Idaho. Once the red skin potatoes were introduced into the mix, they became a staple growing up also. I have to admit, I don't find the red skins to be all that, and will choose Yukon Golds in the supermarket over them without hesitation.

Last year, I had my first experience digging potatoes. They were of course, the red skin kind. Within 20 minutes of digging them, they were roasting in my oven. I also had enough to make some fresh gnocchi. Light as a feather, and tasty as could be, it was at this point I knew potatoes would be in my next garden.  I was certain they wouldn't be white. I wanted the Peruvian blues, but as it worked out, I ended up with the Purple Majesty. I keep reading about how great the Majesty were for chips or fries. Except for some misdirected BBQ Rib flavored potato chips, there has never been a bag of chips I haven't liked.

The Purple Majesty potato is not for long term storage, and is considered a medium starchy potato. While chips and fries were the best I've ever had, shredding them and making has browns is the way to go with these. They bake well, and I've seen recipes that use them as mashed potatoes. I didn't try them as mashed because once I went hash browns, I never went back.

Growing potatoes in the ground is easy. They can grow in containers also. While I grew them in the ground, I am growing sweet potatoes in a container. I'll let you know that turns out.

Digging Deeper Than Freshly Dug Potatoes – ANDES-Potato Park-CIP Agreement

PotatoesThere's always a story lurking somewhere around me. Recently, I stopped by my garden plot at the community garden. It's the end of the season and I wanted to assess what had to be done to close it. I didn't plan to do any work, and was not dressed for any. I pulled up a few small plants, my neighbor saw me and hollered "You can dig as much potatoes as you can."

I never grew potatoes which means I never dug them either. All around me though, my neighbors had potatoes. Evidently they grow well there. Always looking for knowledge and content to write about, I said "Great, thanks!"

He asked me if ever dug them before, I said no and he said it wasn't a big deal. He didn't have fork, just a shovel, he demonstrated what to do and handed me the shovel. It's an easy thing really. You just have to be careful. You dig a little dirt, find the potato and brush off the dirt. Considering I had sandals on, and a nice pair of short pants, it was going to be a short experience.

I quickly dug about 5 pounds, and while digging I realized that I could have fresh roasted potatoes is less then an hour. I took my potatoes, thanked my neighbor, and was on my way. I have to say, the batch that I roasted were incredible. Like anything else that is fresh, the taste and texture were sublime.

I moved onto gnocchi. I just had to. Fresh potatoes, some King Arthur flour and in a short amount of time I had pillows of heaven. Shortly after, I cooked a butternut squash that another neighbor gave me, had the last of the tomatoes from my garden, and some of the frozen gnocchi. An impromptu dinner that was grown within 400 feet of each other. It doesn't get any better then that.

When I decided to write about this, naturally I had to research heirloom potatoes. In the course of digging for information, I came across the Andes-Potato Park-CIP Agreement. From the article that precedes the agreement;

LONDON, Jan 18 (IPS) - Peru gave the world the potato, and the potato now offers indigenous people around the world a new recipe for securing their rights.A new agreement between six indigenous communities and the International Potato Centre in Cusco, Peru, heart of the old Inca civilisation in the Andes mountains of Latin America, recognises the right of these communities over the unique potato strains that they have developed and grown.

So what does this mean? More from the article;

The new agreement "means that Andean communities can unlock the potato gene bank and repatriate biological diversity to farming communities and the natural environment for local and global benefit," ANDES said in a statement Tuesday.Though excluded and often oppressed, indigenous peoples are the traditional custodians of biodiversity, and this agreement recognises that "the conservation, sustainable use and development of maximum agro-biodiversity is of vital importance in order to improve the nutrition, health and other needs of the growing global population," ANDES says.

How GREAT is that? Except for the part about indigenous people being excluded and often oppressed, that's tragic. This agreement reclaims their rights to a food that they have cultivated and introduced to the world. They are the original stewards of potatoes.

This agreement signed in 2005 doesn't give them the right to patent the genes, it's just the opposite. It protects their rights from interlopers who would try to do that. The agreement was sign by six Peruvian indigenous communities, and the International Potato Center, an agricultural research center based in Lima, Peru, which is the sponsor of the Potato Park;

Located in Pisaq in the Sacred Valley of Peru, the Potato Park is a one of the few conservation initiatives in the world where the local people are managing and protecting local genetic resources and traditional knowledge about their health, food, and agriculture. The Park covers more than 12,000 ha between 3,150 and 5,000 masl. About 600 varieties of native potatoes grow in the Park, most of them unique to this habitat. Six Quechua communities live in the Park. Some had been struggling for land tenure for years until the Quechua-Aymara Association for Sustainable Communities (ANDES in Spanish) brought them together in this in-situ conservation project.

I'm amazed and inspired by this. I want to see this place. I have to. What better example of what I want to encourage people to do within their families? There will be more written about this I'm sure. For now though, a story that started out innocently enough with a brief visit to my garden plot and spontaneous potato dig will have to do.