Thursday, March 25, 2021

Early Rose Potato

It won't be long until it's time to plant potatoes in Potter County. We'd already ordered our seed potatoes when I read about this superlative spud described here by my grandfather, W.D. Fish in 1961:

"Early Rose potatoes – They were favorites when this old timer was a small boy, maybe more than sixty years ago.

When those old time spuds were cooked the skins cracked loose and they mashed dry and mealy, with a flavor –

They ain't no such potatoes today.

True, the yield of 100 bushels to the acre was a big crop, but it was a quality crop.

Today anything less than 400 bushels per acre is almost a crop failure, but who can eat the stuff!

The darned things are like trying to mash a mess of salve. Why, those Early Rose potatoes smiled at you – and as the skins cracked, they even laughed.

Wonderful food, appetizing, flavorful, nourishing and a delight to the sense of taste."

The internet pointed me to the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity where I found information about the Early Rose:

After its introduction by Albert Bresee in 1861, the Early Rose potato gained widespread popularity. By 1868, the potato was widely sold by B.K. Bliss and Sons of New York for $1 per pound. The Early Rose was prized for its resistance to blight, common pests, and its superior taste. It was one of the first commercially successful potatoes and contributed to the massive growth of the potato farming industry during the late 19th century. During the colonization of New England, potatoes sustained the people and were highly valued as a food source.

Like many heirloom plants, the Early Rose was relegated to obscurity by the production of cheaper, easier to grow potatoes like the Yukon Gold and Russet. The commercial viability of the Early Rose was diminished by the necessity of cool weather climates, which are not always present across North America. As the potato industry grew, taste was valued less than other attributes such as efficiency, low cost, uniform shape, durability in long distance shipment, long shelf life and ease of processing. These factors were valued over the rich flavor profile of the Early Rose and contributed to the diminishing nutritional value of the potato.

Heirloom potatoes are divided into two main textures, floury and starchy. The Early Rose falls into the starchy texture category. The taste of the potato is rich in consistency with a light potato flavor. The potato is considered a more balanced version of other red all-purpose varieties. It’s a good choice for all types of cuisine including salad, dumplings, soup, and sweet baked goods. The Early Rose is a great compliment to many other vegetables and can be mashed, roasted, boiled and included in casseroles.

The Maine Potato Lady, a source of organic seed potatoes, lists Early Rose and describes it as one of the founding potato varieties in this country. "Early maturing oval tubers have smooth red skin and white flesh, great for everything from steaming to baking. A true heirloom. "

Eureka! Ready to order and then ... "Not Available At This Time."

Next year I'll start earlier on the trail of the smiling potato.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Maple Memories

It's been a long time since anyone's made maple syrup here at Metzger Heritage Farm. Arthur carries long-ago memories of tapping the trees in the sugar bush and boiling the sap down in big flat pans on an arch that stood in the field behind the little house. This tumble of fire bricks and pipe is all that's left these days.

Many of the old ways were familiar to my grandfather, W.D. Fish, who grew up in nearby Allegany County, N.Y. and shared a heritage of country ways. His words captured the imagination of thousands of readers of his weekly "Golly" column in The Potter Enterprise.

"Wonder if any one who reads this column can remember boiling maple sap in a big cast iron kettle!
The sap was caught in wooden buckets. There were no bucket covers. Millers by scores would drop into the buckets. When rains came, water would run down over the bark of the tree and into the container. Straining the sap removed the millers but it could not take the color from the rain absorbed from the bark of the trees.
The first deposited its share of foreign matter in the boiling along with ashes from the fire.
The result was maple syrup of the black-strap variety and the sugar of a very dark mahogany color.
There are people to this day who think maple suyrup and sugar must be dark in color to be genuine.
The black strap syrup of those days may have lacked much in the cleanliness of manufacture but --
How good it was!
It was wonderful, too when the salted cucumbers were brought up from the barrel in the cellar, freshened from the brine and sweetened with that fine black maple sugar. It added color and flavor.
Those who have never eaten pickles sweetened with good old black maple syrup have missed a real treat.
Golly wishes he might have a good big stone jar of 'em right now to whet his jaded appetite."

first day of spring 2021 on Crandall Hill