Tater digging time has arrived down here, and there will be lots of them. The first few plants yielded four different taters.
There are two yellow varieties in the bucket, and they are Gold Rush, and the standby Yukon Gold. The reds are Norland Red, which is quite attractive, so much so that I think I will eat them. The classic Russet rounds out this group.
I did very little for these roots except treat them with soil sulphur, to keep them from rotting, and a handful of organic fertilizer. With that little effort, we will be in taters for the rest of the summer. That’s taters, not tatters, though I do a really great Mick Jagger imitation, singing “Shattered.”
After almost three months of non-stop rain, it finally dried up enough for me to plant my taters. We already have had our yearly average rainfall total and it is only the end of March. At least all the moisture made it easy to dig the trenches with a real old style tool.
That hoe is usually reserved for mixing concrete, but it will move some earth as well. I planted four varieties of taters.
Yukon Gold (Six Pounds)
Red Norland (Five pounds)
Gold Rush (A New Variety for me. One Pound)
Russet (One Pound)
That made two and a half rows. The delay in planting meant that all the taters had sprouted well, which made it easy to use the classic American method of cutting in half any tuber that had more than four eyes on it, and every Red Norland did. Every cut tater was dipped in agricultural lime.
After I aligned my trenches with my homemade garden string combo, I lined each one with crushed egg shells for calcium, and pelletized lime for more calcium and magnesium. The final touch will be to top dress them all with some composted chicken manure. That will be my only source for nitrogen, until they leaf out, and then they get some liquid Alaska fish fertilizer.
Hopefully, the taters will no longer smell of rotten fish when I dig them.
This is nothing but a simple beef stew, but it was cooked in a cast iron camping Dutch Oven over an open fire, which always makes everything taste better. I will disclose the small wrinkles which add layers and layers to the dish. First, marry-nate some cubed up chuck roast, in red wine, salt, and pepper. I left mine in the fridge overnight, and then browned it in some home rendered lard, over some blazing heat.
It helped that I had the One Spoon to cook with, which I got from a small fellow with furry feet. He told me it was the one spoon to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them. Actually, I made that monstrosity out of some Carolina Buckthorn, a weed tree if there ever was one. It’s almost as long as my Amish made fireplace poker. It does keep your hands away from the fire.
I threw in a whole chopped onion, cooked it, and deglazed the whole thing with some apple wine that was mysteriously sitting next to my fire pit, and the red wine marinade. Who would have guessed?
The next step is to add milled tomatoes, and cook for an hour or two. Throw a lid on that thing, to conserve heat.
I’ve always thought of Dutch Ovens as something like primitive pressure cookers, because it takes some serious steam to leak through that massive lid. The last ingredients are salt, pepper, carrots, and naturally, taters, precious.
It would take another good hour to finish this, so I just went back to work on my great American novel, which is closing to a finish. If only it was as good as this stew turned out to be.
This is something of an empty out the spice cabinet dish, and a boil can have everything from crayfish, shrimp and sausage, to artichokes and corn. Since this was for two, we stuck with the basics of shrimp, sweet corn, and new potatoes.
For the Boil:
Water to cover the Ingredients (2 Quarts here)
1 teaspoon Thyme
1 teaspoon Oregano
Cayenne Pepper Flakes to taste
2 tablespoons Salt
2 Bay Leaves
1 teaspoon Dill Seed
1 teaspoon Fennel Seed
And anything else you like. Cover, and bring this mixture to a rolling boil. Turn it off, and let it steep for awhile. If you have a cold, stick your face down in the vapor. If it’s well seasoned, it will clear your head out.
For the Edibles:
4 new Potatoes (we have 2 Red and 2 Yukon Gold)
2 ears Sweet Corn (these are Silver Queen)
1/2 pound+ Shrimp, deveined (we usually use Gulf shrimp, but these are Florida Keys shrimp)
Boil the potatoes for 30-35 minutes, then add the corn. Cook for 8 more, and add the shrimp. In about a minute or two, the shrimp will curl up and turn opaque, which means they are done. Strain in a colander, and serve in a bowl with a rustic paper towel lining.
Have beaucoup amounts of butter for the corn and potatoes. Our favorite condiments are cocktail sauce, tartar sauce, and Chinese hot mustard. If the boil didn’t clear out your sinuses, a combination of hot mustard and cayenne flakes surely will.
I now have a couple of months worth of new potatoes, because I grew these myself. Those in the picture are Yukon Gold and Russet potatoes. It’s next to impossible to buy potatoes of this quality. You have to grow them yourself.
With that said, hereby hangs a tale, as Shakespeare might have written. I come from a line of many generations of potato farmers, and my grandfather Earnie claimed to have started the sweet potato industry in Alabama. Here’s the story.
During the 1920’s, farmers from the South would travel to Northern industrial cities to work during the winter. Folks from Cullman would go to Cincinnati to be among their fellow German descended folks. Factory work paid better than sitting on your butt all winter.
Factory owners caught on to this migration, and instituted a rule that no one who quit to work at a higher paying factory could be re-hired by another one. Before the days of Social Security numbers and other ID, my grandfather just used a different name, every time he moved from factory to factory.
He would also look for markets for anything he grew. One day he ran across a grocery wholesaler who was really interested. Here’s how he would describe the conversation:
Wholesaler: “So what do you grow down there in Alabama?”
Earnie: “Our main crop is strawberries.”
Wholesaler: “Too perishable. They’d be rotten by the time they got up here.”
Earnie: “We also grow lots of sweet potatoes.”
Wholesaler: “Sweet potatoes! Oy vey! I can never get enough sweet potatoes. I’ll take three carloads.”
Earnie: “I’ll get three guys to bring up three carloads.”
Wholesaler: “No, I want three train carloads. That will just be the start.”
And thusly every sweet potato in the county was sold, and an industry born. The first time I walked into our first Whole Foods store, I saw a big sign that said “Local Sweet Potatoes,” next to the picture of a farmer I went to high school with. Taters run deep.
We have bought new potatoes three weeks in a row at the Festhalle, our local Farmer’s market, and they really don’t resemble supermarket potatoes in taste, even expensive organic ones. So don’t cook them like supermarket potatoes. Those in the picture are regular Red and Yukon golds.
My favorite cooking method for these: frying. Shocking to hear that from a Southerner. Cut into small cubes is best. These are especially good in the classic Farmer’s Omelet.
Next in line is the classic boiled new potatoes, served in a giant pool of butter and salt. For god’s sake don’t peel these–cook them as is.
In another week or two, I may turn into Mr. Potato Head.