Before we get down to the dirt, I want to come clean about something: I hate beets. I mean, I hate them. HATE. I once made a flow chart for my mom to keep on her fridge, demonstrating how beets aren’t food and should stop lying to the masses. I harbor grave doubts about Australia en masse because of the national fondness for sneaking beets onto every damn food they can. There was a Sesame Street song about sugar beets that has, to this day, an unparalleled ability to cause instantaneous rage.
I hate beets. And yet, I bought a pound of golden beets at the grocery store last weekend. I can’t explain it, except maybe I thought taking them home to wither from neglect in my refrigerator might be a good way of expressing my contempt directly.
But this post isn’t about beets. It’s about potatoes. And I love potatoes. Not so much the eating of them – I mean, I eat them, without complaint and often with great enthusiasm. But what I love about potatoes, really, is growing them.
If you’ve never done it, it’s not too late – in most areas – to throw down a tiny fall crop for practice. Just chuck a chitted tuber in some out-of-the-way dirt, let it sprout and vine and take over everything until the plant dies back, and then dig up your bitty baby harvest of awesomeness. Boom! you’re a farmer.
For the real magic, though, you start these puppies in the spring:
Seed potatoes are cheap and, at least around here, pretty easily available. I like to grow a variety – this year, I started Royal Purples, Russian Bananas, and Rose Apple Finns. I admit without reservation that I picked the Finns because of my dog’s name, and the Russian Bananas because it sounds just very slightly dirty if your sense of humor hasn’t matured since age 12. (Pro tip: mine has not.)
I leave the seed potatoes out in the sun for a few days until they’re nicely sprouty, and then I toss them down into about 6″ of straight compost…in a trash can. Just a standard-issue cheap plastic trash can, that’s had holes drilled into the bottom and about 6-10″ up the sides.
Cover the seed potatoes with more compost, and wait for the magic to start.
Once the sprouts have all got at least 2 sets of leaves on them, add another layer of something dirt-like. It can be more compost, or it can be garden soil; I’ve even heard just using wood shavings is fine. Anything, really. Just bury all but the top set of leaves.
And repeat. Repeat and repeat again, until the bin is full, or until you go away for a long weekend and now there’s so many leaves that you start to worry things will go weird if you bury them again. They won’t, but it’s fine to panic and stop whenever you want. They’ll keep growing, right up and out of the trash can.
Water when the dirt looks dry, and otherwise, ignore the heck out of them. Once the leaves start to yellow, stop watering, and once the leaves and stalks look damn near dead, it’s potato time!
You should have potatoes pretty much top-to-bottom in the can, of all manner of sizes. Getting them out is dirty work, but not terribly arduous – dig in with bare hands to start with, and when that stops being satisfyingly result-oriented, just tip the thing over and marvel at your bounty.
Today was the day my stalks finally looked dead enough, and my patience finally wore thin enough, that I decided to upend my entire potato crop, and let me tell you, it was an awesome one. From 6 seed potatoes, and with very little real effort, I got a good 15+ pounds of potatoes.
Like I said: BOOM. FARMER.
But meanwhile, back at those beets.
There I was, with time on my hands, dirt under my nails, nothing planned for dinner, 15 pounds of potatoes in various shapes and colors…and one bunch of beets in the fridge.
Ugh. Fine. Challenge accepted. Enter: the potato salad. With secret beets.
Step one: peel beets and cut them into bite-sized chunks. Give a roughly-equal quantity of potatoes the same treatment. You could probably not peel the potatoes, but I found it very comforting to do so, having just dug them out of the DIRT.
Heat the oven to 375. Toss the potatoes and beets with a liberal sousing of olive oil, and then sprinkle with coarse sea salt. For 3 large beets and about 5 potatoes, I used about 3T of olive oil and 2t of salt.
Cook in the top half of the oven for 45 minutes, stirring once at about the halfway point.
As soon as they come out of the oven, toss with about 2t of plain white vinegar.
Step two: saucy!
In a large bowl, I mixed 1/2c mayonnaise, 2T of mustard, and 2T of vinegar together with a whisk. Crucial points here: I really like vinegar. I also really like mustard. If you don’t like either, replace with an equivalent quantity of buttermilk, or, 1/2 the quantity of plain old milk. Add 1/2 t of salt and a few good grinds of pepper.
Step three: Toss the still-warm potatoes into the sauce, and stir til coated. Scissor-snip 2 green onions – smugly plucked from the garden, naturally, or store bought if needed – into the bowl and toss again. Let the whole mess sit at least 30 minutes, then eat or refrigerate.
It’s not pretty, but…
…it turns out: beets, when roasted together with fresh-from-dirt potatoes, tossed together with a little salty, fatty magic, and liberally vinegared…they’re kind of edible. They’re kind of good, even.
WHO AM I KIDDING. THEY WERE AWESOME. I AM STILL EATING WHILE I TYPE, AND IT JUST KEEPS GETTING BETTER.
I still hate beets, though.
Secret bonus prize for reading all the way to the bottom? I found some funny shaped potatoes today. Like super funny. Like…FUNNY. That thing I said up there? About being 12? That’s a generous estimation.
YEP. THAT HAPPENED. IT’S COOL. IT’S NATURAL. YOU GET USED TO THESE THINGS WHEN YOU’RE A FARMER.