The great potato

Appears in
Soup: A Way of Life

By Barbara Kafka

Published 1998

  • About

I had never fully appreciated the wide variety of the potato, although I have grown many different kinds and was familiar with the fabulous Dictionaire Vilmorin des Plantes Potagères of 1947, which lists almost fifty varieties of potato. Among them are varieties that can be dug from late May to October, including types with white, yellow, violet, and bicolored (even red and yellow) flesh.

It took a trip to the Andes of Ecuador to let me see a greater potential. In the Otavalo market, Indians hunker on the ground, fine straw hats on their heads, next to vibrant weavings spread with their home-grown offerings. I have seen as many as seventy-five varieties of potatoes, round and oval, tiny as a jacks’ game ball and large as a round eggplant, knobby and smooth, red, pink, blue, white, yellow, golden brown, and almost black. The seller will often sink a thumbnail into a proffered specimen to show how freshly its juices spurt and then break it open to show the crisp flesh. Each potato has its own uses and flavors. We will not find such a splendid variety in our own markets. However, we will find the best and freshest in fall.