Food Information
Root Vegetables


The potato is a tuber that originated in South America. It reached Irelandby way of Europe some two hundred years after it was first introduced tothe Old World by the returning Spanish explorers. Early in the eighteenthcentury it was brought to the English colonies in North America by settlersarriving from Ireland, which is why we call it an Irish potato.

Irish potatoes are not true potatoes, nor are they related to sweet potatoes.The true potato is the yam. The sweet potato is botanically a member ofthe morning glory family. The Irish potato is a member of the nightshadefamily, which includes eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes.
Even though it is neither Irish nor a potato, this tuber is produced ingreater quantities throughout the world than any other fresh vegetable.In North America it ranks number one in tonnage consumed. While there isonly one crop per year, potatoes are harvested in the spring, summer, andfall and are available in ample supply year round. Those harvested in thefall are put in storage, with a minimum of loss to shrinkage or decay, inquantities sufficient to overlap the next year's crop. As a rule, potatoessell at moderate and even modest prices.

The freshly dug potatoes that go directly from the field to marketin the spring are called new potatoes. Those that are put into storage afterthey are harvested in the fall are called old potatoes when they arrivein market. The new potatoes have a somewhat different flavor andtexture than the old ones. The new potatoes have a fresher flavor and arefirmer and moister. While they don't fry or mash well and take forever tobake, they are excellent when boiled. Traditionally, boiled new potatoesare served with their jackets intact and garnished with a sprig of parsley.These outer jackets of the new potatoes can be either white or red in color.Even though both are similar in texture and flavor, most people prefer andidentify new potatoes by their red skins.
But note that not all red-skinned potatoes are new potatoes. Some red-skinnedpotatoes are put in storage in the fall, and when they reach the marketin the winter and early spring they are mistaken for new potatoes. Someareas of the country, mainly Minnesota and the Dakotas, grow a red-skinnedvariety called Red Bliss. These Red Bliss are put in storage in thefall and are old red-skinned potatoes by the time they are shipped to marketseveral months later. Often they are dyed with a red food coloring to enhancetheir appearance and are then mistakingly accepted as new potatoes. Theseold, round, red-skinned potatoes are no different than the old white-skinnedpotatoes in the market selling for about half the price.

For the record, the true red-skinned new potatoes that are grown in Florida,Texas, Arizona, and California don't arrive in market until February andare of superb quality. Any red-skinned potato sold during the months ofNovember, December, and January are probably old potatoes that were grownin the North and are not the real McCoy. Even some sold in February, March,and April, when real new potatoes are available, could be old red-skinnedpotatoes masquerading as new. Since the real thing and the impostors lookvery much alike, the consumer will have to depend solely on the integrityof the retail market to get a fair shake.
There are countless varieties of potatoes that come in assorted sizes andshapes. They also come in a yellow flesh color as well as the traditionalwhite. Almost all the potatoes sold in North America are white fleshed.In recent years some of the very exclusive fruit stores have been tryingto introduce a yellow fleshed variety, called Finnish potatoes, thatcarry very high price tags.

Potatoes come in two different shapes: long and round. Although all shapesmay be used for all purposes, as a rule the long ones are used for bakingand are called bakers. The round ones are known as all purpose potatoesbut are not usually used for baking.

The bakers are primarily grown west of the Mississippi. Some have russetcolored skins, others have clear white skins. The clear, white skinned onesare grown in California and are known as White Rose or ShafterWhites. The Shafter Whites are shipped to market in refrigerated railcars and are some of our finest potatoes. Even though they are new potatoes,the larger ones bake well. The smaller ones are wonderful when boiled. Thedarker skinned bakers are called Russets. Although they can be grownin many areas, by far the largest, possibly the best, producer of this typeis the state of Idaho. Most consumers refer to the Russets as Idahos regardlessof where they are grown.

The round, white, all-purpose potatoes are for the most part grown eastof the Mississippi. Maine is the number one state as far as tonnage. TheCanadian Maritime provinces are also major producers. These round whitepotatoes are usually less costly than the Russets.

Most potatoes are now marketed in 5 or 10 pound prepackaged see-throughbags. When purchasing these bags, check out the potatoes to see that theyare firm, not rubbery, and free from cuts. Avoid potatoes that aregreenish in hue, they have been exposed to sunlight and will have a shortshelf life. If you are shopping for all-purpose eastern potatoes, the prepackagedbags are the most economical way to buy them. The wide range in size won'tpose a problem if you use these potatoes primarily for boiling or frying.

If for the most part you use them for baking, the prepackaged western potatoesmay not fill the bill. Often, the ideal baking-sized ones are skimmed offbefore the potatoes are bagged up. Most of the packages of western potatoescontain an excess of potatoes that are undersized for baking. You'll dobetter to pay a premium price and purchase individual, uniformly sized bakers.Since they will be almost identical in size, they will bake evenly.

A foil-wrapped potato retains rather than exudes moisture and when bakedand will be wet and even soggy rather than dry and fluffy. A potato wrappedin foil will be steamed rather than baked.

Long White / Round Red

Round White / Russet

Finnish Yellow

WHEN TO BUY: Available year-round
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Firm, unbruised vegetables
HOW TO STORE: Refrigerate new potatoes; do not refrigerate old potatoesunless temperature exceeds 70F.

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