I don’t know if it’s due to my Irish heritage, but I absolutely love potatoes. They were a constant staple on the menu when I was a youngster, and they took up a large patch in our garden. I can distinctly remember my father, leaning on a shovel, standing over my brother and me as we buried the cut up seed potatoes in the spring, and he took the same stance in the fall when we dug them out.
I learned a lot during those times, not only about growing potatoes, but useful life tidbits Dad would opine on as he watched us work. “He who makes the gold, makes the rules,” was one of his favorites when I would ask for something he thought was inappropriate. If I questioned why he wasn’t on the ground digging around in the dirt, he’d say, “Every job needs a supervisor.” And I heard a lot about the wisdom that was gained “from the school of hard knocks.”
I know for a fact you can learn a lot in a potato field and that’s why I was excited when I got a press release announcing that the UW-Rhinelander Agricultural Research Station will be opening a field for the public to come and pick. This is a chance to learn about an interesting crop and to perform a community service for your fellow man. Participants can pick potatoes to fill the larders of area food pantries. “We want to educate people about the potatoes grown right here in addition to providing a community service,” said Bryan Bowen, superintendent of the UW-Rhinelander Agricultural Research Station. “The potatoes will be dug and all people have to do is pick them up and put them in containers.”
The event will take place this coming Thursday evening, Sept. 27 from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at the UW Research Station which is east of Rhinelander. The potatoes picked will be distributed in Rhinelander and to other north central communities. And civic groups, families and anyone who wants to help and learn more about potatoes is welcome to join in the fun. Participants will also be allowed to take home a sampler of the varieties that will be picked that evening. “We have potatoes that are purple, yellow, white and red,” said Bryan. “They are planted all together so it makes it especially fun for kids.”
Researchers and technicians from the station will also be on hand to answer questions about this American staple. “We don’t grow potatoes here for sale per se,” said Bryan. “We develop breeding lines that could become different varieties.”
Here potatoes are developed that could eventually become industry standards for potato chips or French fries. For instance, potato chip potato varieties must have a dry texture to produce the crunchiest chips with no brown spots, which is aesthetically unattractive to consumers. This particular research facility is also home to the Wisconsin Potato Varietal Breeding Project, a long-standing research and breeding program that has produced several new varieties of commercial potatoes that are now grown around the world.
In addition there will also be a campfire and Bryan hopes the weather cooperates and kids can roast a marshmallow or two and maybe even some hot dogs.
This week I’m excited to share a few potato recipes that have been favorites at my house for years. The Twice Baked Potato Casserole recipe I like to make at Thanksgiving because it can be made ahead and popped into the over about an hour before serving. I like it because I don’t have to worry about mashing potatoes and entertaining guests at the same time. And I will bake a ham just so I have the ingredients for the Crock Pot Scalloped Potatoes. I make this often as a stand alone meal.
Yes, it is true I have always had a love affair with potatoes. And I’m proud to live in an area where a UW Rhinelander Agricultural Research Station is devoted to potato culture, but most of all I like the fact that for my entire life potatoes have not only been a source of nourishment, but a source of knowledge too. And I have a diploma from the “school of hard knocks” to prove it.
Twice Baked Potato Casserole
4 cups mashed potatoes (about 8 to 10 large)
1 cup sour cream
1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 tsp. minced chives
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1 Tbs. butter, melted
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
In a large bowl, combine potatoes, sour cream, cream cheese, chives and garlic powder. Turn into a greased 2-qt. casserole. Combine bread crumbs with butter; sprinkle over potatoes. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes. Top with cheese and serve immediately. Yield: 10-12 servings.
Crock Pot Scalloped Potatoes and Ham
3 lbs. potatoes (about 6 medium spuds) peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped cooked ham
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Place sliced potatoes in slow cooker. In a medium bowl, mix together shredded cheese, onion and ham. Mix with potatoes in slow cooker. Using the same bowl, mix together condensed soup and water. Season to taste with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Pour evenly over the potato mixture. Cover, and cook on high for 4 hours.
Editor’s note: The UW-Research Agricultural Research Station is located 61/2 miles east of the Rhinelander Ice Arena on Cty. C. Look for signs to turn right on Rominsky Road and proceed south, following the signs to the field. For more information, call (715) 369-0619.