A serendipitous look though the sorting shelves at my local library
led me to The Great Potato Book
, which can only be described as raising food fetishism to a new height. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing.
Beautifully photographed and printed on glossy stock, The Great Potato Book presents the humble potato’s history, recipes and an index of potato varieties you have probably never seen. Each description offers appropriate users for the particular variety as well as possible substitutions if you can’t find a certain type in your area. Several recipes caught my eye immediately, including the Italian Potato Pie, Potato-Onion Focaccua and Bacon-Potato Cake.
If I were a collector of food books, The Great Potato Book would certainly find its way onto my bookshelves, or more likely, onto my coffee table, since it is so beautifully designed. Of course, owning this book would make it clear to all your friends that your truly are a “foodie” to the highest degree. For the gardener’s among us, the book gives us images of perfection to strive for in your own garden. You may never reach such heights, but it is always good to have something for which to strive.
Despite its glossiness, the book brought back some pleasant memories of planting and harvesting potatoes with my grandma, many years ago. She planted a half-acre of garden until she was well into her 70’s and taught me most everything I know about gardening.
Each year we would take seed potatoes left over from the previous year and cut them into sections, each containing an eye, These were loaded into peck baskets made of wicker and carried out to the back of her property, where the garden existed. The soil would have been prepared until it was deep and soft, and a dark, chocolate brown. We would then create a long straight row, using the ancient hand cultivator that seemed to belong to a previous century. It looked like a miniature plow with a large metal wheel at the front and wheelbarrow-like handles at the rear. Each of us would then heft a basket and begin walking down the row, dropping potatoes at regular intervals, then stepping on each one to seat it in the soil. Then we would carefully “hill up” each row, giving the new potatoes plenty of room to grow.
Later in the Summer, and into the cold Fall, we would make regular trips out to the garden to gather potatoes for our usual Sunday family supper. It was always amazing to put the garden fork into a seemingly dead part of the garden and turn up a hidden bounty.
Despite the typical attacks of potato bugs, dry weather, wet weather and more, I have no memory of Grandma ever buying potatoes. I guess her garden, and her gardening knowledge, made it relatively easy to provide more than enough for everyone.
Food as fetish, food as art and food as memory. Any book that can serve in all these ways is certainly worth a look.
Link: The Great Potato Book by Florence Fabricant
, Forward by Charlie Trotter, Photography by Richard Blair
Related: Previous mentions of potatoes
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