Today I planted my potatoes.
Their eyes are all sprouted, ready to go.
Unearthing them at the end of the season – and here in the northeast, it’s a long season – is one of my favorite things. You get to reach into the dark, crumbly loam and pull out the hard little orbs, detaching them delicately from the stem. You get dirt under your nails.
You get to say loam.
It’s of a kin to reaching under a hen, feeling around through the softest feathers imaginable to pull out her just laid, still-warm, golden eggs.
Once, around thirty years ago, I wrote a play called One Potato. The things I recall about it: there was a protagonist named Esmerelda, it took place in Europe during the Middle Ages, and it was actually about the invention of the dinner fork. I loved the fact that it was hard to find information on my subject (pre-web!), I had to dig (like digging potatoes) and even embroider on what I found to create a story. Barbara Tuchman, the great historian of the middle ages in A Distant Mirror, once said, “The unrecorded past is none other than our old friend, the tree in the primeval forest which fell without being heard.”
This was when I was young and poetical.
The pic was taken about that time, on a downtown rooftop in the meatpacking district, when Manhattan still had a thriving meat market that left a slick of blood across the cobblestones every morning. My photographer friend Jonathan Pite produced my likeness for the American Poetry Review.
I always thought he captured the yearning inside me and the grit of 1980s Manhattan in the air. It was a strange place, but great.
You are lucky to be invited to our house nowadays if Gil is making french fries – he takes the potato to a new level.
Gil’s Best French Fry Recipe
Take a bunch of spuds. No need to peel. “I like russet potatoes, myself.”
Cut in half the long way. Cut into thin strips. Cut crosswise three times. Should yield long thin french fries.
Soak in a big bowl of water with 3 T salt and ¼ tsp sugar. Make sure salt and sugar dissolve.
“Soak for as long as you have…5 minutes, 10…”
What to listen to as you work? “Always the blues, all the Slim blues players, Magic Slim…”
Spin potatoes dry in a salad spinner.
Heat a large pot of canola oil to smoking, enough to cover the potatoes. Fry until brown. Lift out with a wok ladle or slotted spoon.
Drain fries on brown paper bags.
Dust with salt, and/or cumin, chili powder, whatever you like.
Serve with malt vinegar, aeoli or tomato ketchup.
Says Gil: “There are five levels of how to judge the fanciness of a restaurant.
Level One: They give you ketchup in packets.
Level Two: The ketchup is in a bottle on the table.
Level Three: You ask for ketchup and they bring it in a bottle.
Level Four: You ask for ketchup and they bring in in a little silver bowl.
Level Five: You ask and they come to the tableside and make the ketchup for you.”
We generally do the Heinz. Oh, and if you’re on a diet, this year we’ll be offering spinach, too.