Farmers' Kitchen—Tater Days
Written onMay 26 , 2016
When we moved into our 1880s farmhouse in Woodbury, one of my favorite places was the cellar. It had a dirt floor, and the northern half of the house was built onto a massive piece of ledge. There were tool marks where stone had been removed to make a little more clearance, and the foundation followed its curves. The house was firmly rooted to its place in the world, and much of its strength came from below the soil line.
Tacked to the stairs were the backs of several old Nabisco shredded wheat boxes. Written on the cardboard, in a neat cursive hand, were the amounts of potatoes put into the cellar from the early 1900s through the 1930s: 50 bushels of Green Mountains … 38 bushels of Kennebec. The average annual store was 80 to 90 bushels, 4,000 pounds give or take. Hopefully that was enough to carry the Lawson family past April and to provide some seed for planting the following May.
Ever since we started our farm and began supplying fresh produce through our local farmers’ market and a CSA, potatoes have always spoken to me. There’s just something about them, from the act of their planting to the magic of their unearthing. At our scale, growing about half an acre each year, I handle each seed piece, choosing to cut it or not, before it goes in the ground. We lay them in a furrow and gently cover them, so they can feel the growing warmth of the late spring, and hill them and weed them. Their flowers range from whites to pinks and purples, and when they’re at peak bloom, there isn’t a more beautiful spot in my town.
Over the course of a year I have many favorite days, but one of them is when we dig the potatoes in the fall. We mow the tops in late August, signaling to the plants that the time for growth is over. For the next two weeks the skins of the potatoes toughen, and they enter a state of dormancy. On harvest day, as they break the surface and ride up the back of our ground-driven potato digger, we are the first people to see these tubers. It’s always amazing to me—a true reveal in the field.
While I love a good French fry, robbing the patch of some early new potatoes and boiling them is a special thing. It’s a turning point in the season for us, when we’re offered a glimpse of where the crop could be going. We toss them with some butter and salt and take some time off to think about the work ahead and the work behind us.
Paul and his family—Kate, Maizie, and Kieran—can be found at the Montpelier Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, selling fresh vegetables from High Ledge Farm, as well as French fries to order. When he’s not working on the farm, Paul works in sales at High Mowing Organic Seeds in Wolcott.