Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Those who know me know I never miss the Munger Potato Festival. It is something I have been going to since college (actually since I turned 21) and I haven’t missed a year. Not to date myself, but this will be my 18th year. Looking through my blog, over the last 3 years, I have yet to dedicate one single solitary post to potatoes. I’m embarrassed and its long overdue.

Potatoes are native to South America and there are thousands of varieties today. They are a relative to tomatoes and eggplants. Potatoes are America’s most popular vegetable and the fourth largest food crop grown globally. Potatoes are a very good source of vitamin C, low in sodium and a good source of vitamin B6, copper, potassium, manganese, and dietary fiber. Potatoes are also a great source of the antioxidants.

There are four basic types of potatoes we eat here in the United States: russet, long white, round white and round red.

The russet, or Idaho or baking potato has rough, brown skin. They are long and slightly rounded in shape. They have a low moisture and high starch content. They are excellent baking potatoes and used to make French Fries. Three-quarters of potatoes planted are russets.

Long, white potatoes are similarly shaped to the russet but their skin is thinner and grayish-brown. They are best served baked, boiled or fried. Baby long, whites are called fingerlings.

Round, white potatoes have a low starch and high moisture content making them
excellent boiling potatoes. Their skin is more waxy than russets and are the same grayish-brown as long, whites. They roast really well and also make good mashed potatoes.
Round, red potatoes are the same as round, whites however their skin is reddish-brown.

Some random potato tips and facts:

  • Yukon gold potatoes make the best mashed potatoes (in my opinion) with their high moisture content and almost buttery taste.
  • Adding a peeled, raw potato to an oversalted dish can help absorb some of the salt.
  • New potatoes are young potatoes and can refer to any variety.
  • Neither yams nor sweet potatoes are related botanically to potatoes.
  • In the United States, Michigan is the largest producer of potatoes used for potato chips. Three quarters of Michigan’s potato crop is used to make potato chips.
  • Frito Lay has added a feature to their website where consumers can track where their bag was grown. With a bag in hand, visit their Chip Tracker to see where your bag came from.
And many ask what type of potatoes you eat at the Munger Potato Festival and what type of potato high jinks ensue. Sadly, the amount of potatoes served in very limited in type and no games of hot potato are played. But for me it is a time to spend with great friends, laugh and forget about anything but potatoes for a few days.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

July is National Horseradish Month

July is national horseradish month. Horseradish is native to eastern Europe but grows very well here in the United States. Both the leaves and root are edible. The leaves are used in salads, but it is prized for its root. Horseradish is a member of the mustard family and the roots have a spicy, pungent bite. They are usually grated or ground. When grated or ground, the roots release their volatile oils. This gives horseradish its characteristic bite.

Bottled (prepared) horseradish is ground and usually mixed with vinegar. Vinegar stops the reaction and stabilizes its flavor. If vinegar is added immediately after it is crushed, it will give a milder finished product. Processors may also add sugar, salt or other ingredients like beet juice. If you have seen red horseradish, it is the beet juice that gives it its color.

Historically horseradish has been used as far back as 1500 BC. It was rubbed on the lower back to alleviate pain and the early Greeks thought of it as an aphrodisiac. It has also used to help expel mucus from the lungs, to treat food poisoning, scurvy, tuberculosis and colic. It has long been one of the five bitter herbs used in the Jewish Passover.

The odd sounding name is believed to come from a mispronunciation. The German name
meerrettich (meaning sea radish since it grows near the sea) was mispronounced by English speakers to meerraidsh. Meer is similar to mare which then was changed to horse. Radish comes from the Latin word for root, radix.

Horseradish goes really well with roast beef and ham. Remember it next time you are making yourself a sandwich. It adds a great kick to deviled eggs, artichoke dip and salmon rollups. July meets grilling, so think about horseradish when you fire up the grill. It goes great with burgers (add a teaspoon or two to the ground meat before shaping the patties), marinade for steaks, brushed on salmon or other oily fish. It also goes great in Bloody Marys and adds a kick to your Margaritas.

Enjoy horseradish this month!