After many months of eating potatoes from Idaho, Florida, New York and other producers, you can now buy the new crop of Maine potatoes, fresh on the market. As the Maine Potato Board might put it, “This spud’s for you.” That was the Wall Street Journal’s recent report on how well schoolchildren like lunch featuring newly dug organic potatoes.
The “old” potatoes, which kept well over the winter and into early summer, were good enough. But the Maine varieties, mostly white at first and russets a bit later on, are great for mashing, baking and various added-value methods like making french fries.
For a large selection, including unusual choices such as purple potatoes, head to the local farmers market where your choices will be many. Roadside stands, in potato growing areas, also often offer a variety of choices. Grocery stores usually stick to the standards like russets.
Early Maine potatoes have a clean skin, but it grows darker as the season progresses. A potato should feel heavy in the hand for its size. And one should avoid potatoes with skin that has a greenish tint, meaning that it has been exposed too long to light and can have a bitter taste. Potatoes prefer the dark. Store new potatoes in the refrigerator if you plan to keep them more than a few days. Old potatoes should be kept in a dark, dry place that’s not too warm. A good scrubbing is all most potatoes need since eating them with the skins on only boosts their nutritional content.
The Maine Potato Board says that Aroostook County alone produced more potatoes than any other state in the nation between 1928 and 1958, and Maine remains seventh or eighth in production. Maine growers planted potatoes on 57,000 acres in 2007, pointing toward about 1.6 billion pounds of potatoes.
Maine has about 380 growers, from Aroostook County to the western mountain region around Bethel and Fryeburg. The industry’s total impact on the state’s economy is $540 million (direct and indirect combined), 6,100 jobs (counting growers and processors as well as truckers, food brokers and equipment manufacturers and dealers), $230 million in personal income, and $32 million in state and local taxes.
So eat up, and you will be pleasing yourself and your family and promoting one of Maine’s signature products.