Monday, October 13, 2008

In Praise of Yukon Gold

It's not my intention to dismiss the potatoes of my childhood as less than memorable; baked, roasted, mashed, or stewed, they were delicious. Those potatoes arrived home in ten pound mesh bags, brown, lumpy and dusty, all the way from distant Idaho, a place which in my mind's eye was a vast monochromatic wilderness populated solely by an infinite expanse of potato pyramids. When they arrived in New Jersey, the Idaho potatoes occupied a special drawer in the kitchen; not quite a potato bin, but a cool dark earthy-smelling nest shared only with the onions.

Years later in the highlands of Guatemala, I discovered another type of potato. These were small and thin skinned, still dotted with fresh dark earth, piled in little hills on a blanket in the market place next to other little mounds of tomatoes and chile peppers. Proudly watched over by the woman who had grown them, dug them out of the ground, and carried them to market early that morning before dawn, they were the freshest potatoes I'd ever eaten. They cooked quickly into a golden yellow, buttery tasting mouthful which needed nothing but a sprinkling of salt; they were unlike anything I had ever tasted from the potato bin of my youth.

Still later, in Northern California, I came upon the Yukon Gold Potato, a variety developed in the 1960's by the Department of Agriculture at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. Yukon Golds have the same delicate skin, yellow flesh, and subtle buttery flavor of the little Guatemalan potatoes, and are now widely cultivated on small organic farms. They have become a staple in my kitchen and are the basis of many simple satisfying meals.

When shopping for Yukon Golds at the market, I look for those which are small, smooth and unblemished, avoiding any which are tinged with green. They store well for weeks in a cool dry place in a paper bag. But Yukon Gold potatoes are so versatile, delicious, and easy to prepare that they seldom linger for long in my potato bin. (Please see following post for basic cooking instructions).