The Inca of Peru and Bolivia developed irrigation systems using terraces, cisterns and canals to coax crops like quinoa, beans, corn, and potatoes to flourish. All this over 4,000 years ago, and according to the International Potato Center, some 4,000 varieties grow in the Andean highlands of Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador.
The texture of the potato’s flesh differs with varieties. For example, the most popular potato used in this country for baking and mashing is the Russet because they are starchy with a low sugar content. This doesn’t allow them to brown a lot if deep-fried. The Agricultural Marketing Resource Center reports that China is the largest producer of potatoes in the world, and Idaho is the largest producer of potatoes in the United States despite the fact that they didn’t begin to grow them until 1837.
Colonizers took the potato to Europe in about 1550 where it was not immediately embraced because of its connection to the deadly nightshade family, making people fear it was toxic. Once people realized they were harmless, the potato became a major food staple.
Red-skinned and new potatoes have thin skin, which makes them good for boiling, steaming and roasting. Fingerlings are a new favorite of mine. They are small, and look like a fat finger. We like them best steamed, skin on, sautéed with a bit of butter and scallions. For their size, they are very flavorful. Russian Banana is a popular variety of fingerlings. They should be showing up about now through April.
Once in a while I use a thin-skinned potato called Long Whites. These thin-skinned potatoes are mostly grown in California, and have a tendency to turn green when exposed to light. We use a lot of Yukon Gold because of the color and texture. I combine them with white or Russets for buttery and creamy mashed potatoes. By the way, mashed potatoes keep warm nicely in a crockpot when serving buffet style, just check now and again and add a little stock and butter so they don’t dry out.
Potatoes are a wonderful vegetable that many of us often in some form. They can be roasted, baked, fried, mashed, boiled and used in a salad. They provide 45 percent of our daily vitamin C and potassium. All that, and only 100 calories for an 8-ounce baked potato.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: “New Native American Cooking,” “Native New England Cooking” and “A Dreamcatcher Book.” She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.