By | Friday, January 14, 2011 Leave a Comment

To my great surprise I have found that I love growing tubers. The old standbys such as carrots, onions, garlic, and shallots, as well as ultra-obscure newcomers to the American farm-plot such as Oca (Oxalis tuberosa,) and Yacon (Polymnia sonchifolia) aka Bolivian Sunroot. But of all the tubers, my favorite to grow is the "humble" potato.

I could hardly be more surprised than you are. The joy I feel from growing potatoes is remarkable. You take a plot of earth - it needn't be particularly good earth, but it helps if it drains reasonably well and is friable. You make a hole. Into the hole you put what is referred to as a "seed potato" - either a small potato, or a piece cut from a larger potato. Then you cover it over and go away. After some time a few shoots emerge from the ground. The potato plant is a pleasant color of green, but otherwise quite unspectacular. If would be easy to walk past them without a glance. Vaguely vine-like green shoots coming up from the ground, supporting a modest number of leaves of a moderate size. Over time the plant may put on flowers, or maybe not. If it does, they will be insignificant little white flowers with no particular scent. Truly the potato plant is almost completely ignorable.

Then, one day, for no apparent reason the plant will start to wilt. Its leaves turn yellow then brown, but wont necessarily fall from the stalks. Soon they too will wither and the whole plant will collapse. You kneel at the base of the fallen greens, shove your hands into the soil, and immediately meet resistance. The ground is full of what seem to be rocks. But they are not rocks - they are potatos. The ground is full of food. It was laying there, completely hidden, just inches below the surface. Beautiful jewels of food, hidden in the ground. Below a particularly vigorous plant there may be so many that some are pushed up above the soil into the air - an amazing gift. When I see such a gem, I feel like a diamond miner who stumbles on a huge stone that is simply laying on the ground waiting to be picked up.

I fill my basket, return to the house, and pour them into the sink to rinse off the clods of dirt that have stuck to them, revealing shining skins encasing pods of starch. They are pink, and burgundy, and yellow. They are bumpy or smooth, creased, folded, crooked, round, oblong, with immaculate virgin coats or studded with eyes.

There was food in the ground. I put my hands in the earth, and there was food there. Magic.
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