New potatoes make their debut this season

Written By By Judith Dunbar Hines For Sun-Times Media Posted: 07/28/2014, 02:16am

I proudly say I’m from Chicago, but my roots are on a farm in Central Illinois where growing all of our own food was a fact of life.

To feed our family there were two huge garden plots to be planted, tended and harvested. Everything that went into those gardens had a specific set of rules according to “signs of the moon” and the Farmer’s Almanac.

Good Friday was always the day for planting potatoes. In sunshine or in rain, my dad believed that was the only day to plant if you wanted a guaranteed harvest a few weeks later, enough to last the entire year.

I also knew that sometime around the Summer Solstice, I’d be back in that same potato patch, following my dad who dug them up while I put them into bushel baskets to be hauled to the root cellar for storage.

Sure enough, a week or so ago, new potatoes showed up in the city farmers markets, right on schedule.

The bright smooth skins, fresh flavor and texture beg to be experienced immediately.

Luckily, fresh garlic makes its appearance at the same time as potatoes. The new bulbs have ripened and are ready to be used immediately, or dried and stored for the months ahead.

I learned from central Illinois farmer and farm advocate Terra Brockman that garlic should be planted in the fall, left in the fields through the winter and harvested in early summer. Her book, The Seasons on Henry’s Farm, tells in touching detail how growing this item, so ubiquitous in our kitchens, is more complex than you might think.

Locally, find many types of garlic: purple, red or white; some large and others small; pungent or with a more subtle flavor. Buy a couple of types and experience the many personalities they exhibit fresh from the ground.

For this very simple celebration of mid-summer, choose potatoes that are flour-y rather than wax-y. Ask the farmer to tell you which is which. Pick up a couple of varieties of garlic and learn about their differences. Then smash away.

‘Local Attraction” features the best of regional produce and products and hopes home cooks will do the same.

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