At the farm stand, I dropped the price drastically, warned customers about the possible hidden defect affecting ten percent of the potatoes in the baskets, and worried. It was like negative selling. Buy them if you dare! Some relished gambling with what looked like beautiful potatoes to save a lot of money. Others, not risk takers, turned abruptly to the unaffected Red La Sodas, at regular price.
Kennebecs are my favorites—they make the creamiest mashed potatoes—so I took this calamity personally. I hated that I had to tell customers to suspiciously cut them in half before they boiled them or shredded them for hash browns. The pleasure aspect of preparing just-dug potatoes would be missing.
One market morning a farmer, visiting from up north—from potato land—noticed the warning sign and we discussed what the problem could be. Right away, as I cut open a specimen, one that happened to have, not just a few dark dots, but a hollowed-out, black cavity, she said, a bit peeved "Ha! It's the cold and wet winter you folks had down here. You got our rain this winter."
"I'm real sorry about that," I replied, "I guess we got your 'hollow heart.' How 'bout we trade next year?"
The next day, the lab left a spirited but mysterious message on our phone: "Call back quickly, as this is an emergency." I did, and the technician explained that my note got her attention and she researched the problem and basically gave me the same report that the farmer had: hollow heart, caused by a wet, cold winter. I relaxed, as those conditions will likely never again affect our potatoes. It'll be something else.
Each year is different, and the changes depend almost entirely on the weather. Down here on the frontier, the years alternate between extreme drought and unruly floods. Winters choose between dry cold and wet cold. Summers are single-minded: hot.
Because heat adds another dilemma to fall planting, we won't be using the Kennebecs, as we are still spooked over them. Instead, we'll plant the stalwart Red La Sodas in late August. And instead of planting them in fertilized soil, we will wait to side-dress the plants when they are six or seven inches tall. They can handle it then.
We learned one year that fertilizer combined with sandy soil and extreme heat, notwithstanding a layer of straw mulch, will cook the potatoes to death. And like any leftovers held over for almost three months, those "cooked" potatoes won't prove tasty by Thanksgiving.
The American Feast Day is the motivation behind our second crop of potatoes: to have authentically "new" potatoes grace our customers' groaning Turkey Day tables. We hope that this year is the year for that farming coup!