October 2004

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Produce News: Local Potatoes

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Produce News
Local Potatoes

by Jenny Ohlsen, Produce Manager

September 22nd marked the fall equinox and I would like to wish everyone a very happy autumn. The days are getting shorter and chillier, but we can still count on the sun to make some of them warm, lovely and bright. We also get to enjoy the trees as they show us their beautiful fall display of colors. If we haven’t experienced a hard frost in Dane County up to this point, the time will come soon. Typically, we experience a killing frost in Dane County from October 4th-10th. While this may seem like the end of the local season, I want to remind everyone that the local season is most certainly thriving. Our very own Eastside Farmers’ Market (201 S. Ingersoll) will continue every Tuesday, 4:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m. through October 12th. The Dane Country Farmers’ Market (on the Square) will still be selling local produce every Saturday morning through November 6th. We here in the produce department are still ordering a huge array of local products from our farmers every week.

Purple tag equals local
Our aisle is filled with the purple price inserts (remember purple = local). Whenever you see that purple tag you can be assured that you are buying a local product and when you buy a local product you are supporting your local economy.

Local products on the aisle
Some of the local products that you will find during the month of October are: apples, arugula, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celeriac, garlic, onions, parsnips, potatoes, pie pumpkins, rutabaga, shallots, spinach, winter squash, sunchokes, and turnips. Depending on the weather, we might lose a couple of these items on the list or a few different items may join the list.

Local Potatoes
One of our largest local crops during the cooler months is our old favorite, the potato. During the month of October all of the potatoes we sell are locally grown. We typically carry the standard varieties both in 5 lb bags and bulk—Yukon gold, red and russet. We also carry fingerling potatoes, 3 lb mix bag of potatoes (includes blue, red and Yukon potatoes), as well as bulk blue potatoes.

A brief potato history
The potato has a long history dating back 7,000 years to the Andes Mountains in South America. This rugged tuber was noticed by the Spaniards in the 16th century. It was taken to Europe and not given much attention as it was viewed as a vegetable for the underclasses and it was also noted for its poisonous nature. Yes, it is true that the leaves of the plant are poisonous and green spots that are caused by exposure to light can cause illness. It was not until the late 18th century that Europe started to really embrace the potato for all of its positive nutritional qualities as well as its adaptable growing characteristics. The potato became a staple in Ireland and gradually became so dependent on this food crop that when the crop experienced a blight in the mid 1800s, Ireland suffered tremendously, which caused mass migration to the U.S.

The nutritional qualities of the potato
The potato did eventually make it to the U.S. and has become firmly engrained in our diets. This old friend has suffered at the hand of the many low carbohydrate diets that have attracted lots of attention in recent years. I’m not qualified to discuss tenets of these low-carb diets, but I would like to highlight some of the wonderful nutritional qualities of the potato. As I have a keen eye for vegetables that are high in protein these days (my due date in getting closer and closer), the potato is a good source for vegetable protein. Potatoes are extremely high in phosphorous and especially potassium. Eating potassium-rich foods such as the potato has been noted to reduce high blood pressure, aid in nerve function, muscle control and blood pressure. The potato is also a complex carbohydrate. In the world of carbohydrates there are complex and simple carbohydrates. The complex carbohydrate is whole wheat, brown rice, vegetables and fruit. Simple carbohydrate are products containing white flour, sugar—basically food items that have been processed and refined. When a food product has been refined and processed, it loses nutritional value. The potato, when eaten as a fresh product (not frozen ala French fries), can pack a powerful nutritional punch. Keep in mind, the skin has a huge amount of nutritional value and it also tastes good. Try leaving it on when making mashed potatoes this fall.

Vermont Valley
One of our many growers that is supplying us potatoes this year is Vermont Valley located in Blue Mounds. Barb and Dave Perkins are lovely people and excellent farmers that not only sell to the Willy Street Co-op wholesale but also run a fairly sizeable CSA. Barb and Dave planted around four acres of potatoes this year and grow many varieties, a few of which we will be selling at the Co-op. The potato crop is usually planted in the spring and must come out of the ground before the first frost.

If you have ever harvested a large crop of potatoes before, it is obvious that this is no easy task. Done the traditional way with a shovel and a bucket, this can be a seriously back-breaking job. At Vermont Valley, they harvest potatoes in a much more efficient method. A tractor pulls a digger, the digger scoops up the potatoes out of ground. From there, the dirt and the potatoes are lifted up onto a series of elevators and dropped onto a conveyor belt. Five people stand on the machine that has the conveyor belt and pick the potatoes out and the dirt falls back to the ground. Dave built the machine with the conveyor belt, and I can attest, having participated in a large potato harvest in the past, it sounds a lot less painful. After the harvest, the potatoes are transported to the packing shed and sized out. A potato plant can yield many different sizes of potatoes; the ‘A’ potato is about the size of a fist, the ‘B’ potato is the size of golf ball and the ‘C’ size can be as small a thimble. Vermont Valley uses two different machines to sort out all of the different sizes of potatoes. From this point, the potatoes are stored in a cool, dry place until they are sold.

Dave’s favorites
I was really hoping to pin Dave down on his very favorite recipe for the potato and he was very elusive. Basically he told me that he “likes potatoes a lot of different ways: oven fries, mashed, and boiled.” He doesn’t know how to make scalloped potatoes, but he loves to eat them and if someone is willing to put in the effort to make twice-baked potatoes, he’s more than willing to eat the reward. Dave Perkins is a potato man, which is a good thing especially since he’s got four acres of ‘em growing out back.

Local specials
In honor of autumn and our local growers I have some excellent October specials to share with our member owners. Bulk red potatoes from Vermont Valley will be on special for $1.19/lb. These wonderful locally grown potatoes have been selling for $1.49/lb. I’m hoping that an extra 30¢ off will entice you to buy these delectable tubers. The produce department is also offering bulk celeriac from Harmony Valley at the low price of $1.29/lb, this is savings of 40¢/lb. I love these specials because they are the very epitome of cozy fall cooking.

Member Appreciation Weekend
During the month of October, we are celebrating the Willy Street Co-op’s 31st birthday. In honor of the Co-op’s 31st birthday, you will find specials all over the store. In the produce department, we will be highlighting two of our October specials. On the 23rd, 24th and 25th of the month, the produce department will be selling Harmony Valley celeriac for an even deeper discount of 99¢/lb and Vermont Valley bulk red potatoes for 99¢/lb. Don’t pass this up!!

Autumn Roasted Vegetables
Here’s a wonderful recipe from our very own Willy Street Co-op Deli. It serves 8.
3 lbs. cubed and chopped potatoes and roots. Use red potatoes, celeriac and any other root veggies with the exception of beets as they tend to “bleed” and turn the whole affair red.
6 cloves of garlic
1 red bell pepper
1 tablespoon of veggie powder mixed with one cup of water
1/3 cup of olive oil
2 teaspoons of thyme
1 teaspoon of celery seed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix everything together and bake until potatoes are done. Stir every 15 minutes.

You can make this recipe at home or you can find it in our fabulous deli during the month of October!

Other October specials
Our primary distributor, Roots and Fruits, has also offered us some great specials for the whole month of October. Be on the lookout for organic honeycrisp apples from Washington for $2.59/lb. We will also be selling Hass Avocadoes from Chile for $1.19/each. Both of these products are wonderful and available to you at a great price for the whole month.

Really? Another produce special?
Well, I guess it’s not really a produce special, but it feels special to me. In the July newsletter I let everyone know that I’m expecting a baby in October. By golly, it’s October! My due date is coming up very quickly, October 22nd in fact. I will be on maternity leave for 3 months and in my place the wonderful and amazing Crystel Wienandt will be the produce manager. If you don’t know Crystel you should stop by and say “hi.” She is a truly delightful person and I feel lucky to work with her (by the way she is a fan of the roasted potato as well). I feel like I’m always saying the same thing about the produce department but I’m going to say it again. The staff in the produce department is a wonderful, seasoned group of people. Not only are they superb artists creating beautiful art with fruits and veggies every day they also have a huge amount of experience in both natural foods as well as produce. On top of all of this, they are a lot of fun! I am fortunate to have such a great group of people running the show while I’m away.