My grandmother, a Maine native, grew Kennebecs and Katahdins. My stepdad, a Vermonter from the cold Northeast Kingdom, swears by Green Mountain, Red Norland, and “whatever is sprouting under the sink.”
There’s much to be said for growing locally developed vegetable varieties, and I’ve grown those potatoes, too. But, I’m adventurous by nature, especially in the realm of plants. When I travel I’m always on the lookout for something new to try in my garden back home. Discovering a new ornamental plant while visiting a garden or shop is relatively easy, but finding new vegetable varieties often takes a bit more risk.
I found one of my favorite potatoes while on a garden tour in England about 10 years ago. On our way through the Yorkshire countryside on a soggy spring day, our small group stopped at a pub for dinner. As usual, my meal was outstanding and I inquired about the source of the delicious baked potatoes. They smelled earthy and tasted sweet and buttery, even without condiments. The server didn’t know what kind of potatoes they were, but thought they came from Germany. He mentioned that the shipping carton was probably out behind the pub.
After dinner, much to the nervous amusement of my less-inclined traveling companions, I engaged in a bit of dumpster diving. From the bottom of the pile of flattened boxes in the rubbish bin, I uncovered a waxed potato carton with the name ‘Desiree‘ checked on its side. Bingo!
When I got home to Vermont, I did a little research and discovered that it’s the most popular red-skinned potato in Europe. It wasn’t hard to find a supplier in Maine and order my own Desiree seed potatoes to grow that summer. My family has enjoyed this lovely yellow-fleshed potato ever since. It’s perfect for roasting, boiling, mashing, and rich winter stews.
Potatoes are among the most rewarding crops because they produce so much food in a small space with little effort. In years past, I grew them in long rows in our big vegetable garden. But as I age and the number of people at our dinner table shrinks, so has our garden. Growing food in a smaller, more efficient garden is a new priority for us. Last year I grew enough potatoes in a 3′ x 3′ Grow Bed to last our family of three until the new year. I’ve heard good reports about growing potatoes in fabric Potato Bins this summer, too. The bags allowed my condo and apartment-dwelling friends to grow food on balconies and patios without any yard at all. Who knows? I may be growing my gourmet Desiree potatoes in a bag on the porch next summer.
How did you discover your favorite vegetables? Are they family heirlooms and hand-me-downs or selections you found by chance? Drop us a line and share your story.