The Fingerling Potato-an Ancient Vegetable-A Culinary Treasure
Written by D. Landreth Seed Company
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In his 1863 book, The Field and Garden Vegetables of America, considered by many to be the definitive work describing the vegetables of nineteenth century America, Fearing Burr described 66 different potatoes. He stated that:
“In its wild or natural state, as found growing on the mountains of Mexico or South America, the tubers rarely exceed an inch in diameter, and are comparatively unpalatable. During the last half century its cultivation within the United States has greatly increased, and it is now considered the most important of all esculent roots, and next to the cereals in value as an article of human subsistence.”
Of the 66 potatoes Burr described, only one was a fingerling, the Black Chenango, which was a purple skinned, purple fleshed potato. This potato, Burr described as “…quality good, usually dry, and of good flavor…moderately productive, and withstands disease better than almost any other Potato; but its dark color is objectionable.”
Fingerlings are probably some of the most ancient potato varieties that exist today. They are usually shaped like a fat, 4-6 inch long index finger with a slight, halfmoon curve, hence the name ‘fingerling’. Some are much smaller, 1-3 inches, and a few are slightly larger in the 6-8 inch range. They can be white, yellow, red, pink or purple.
“Round” Tuber Varieties
The Fingerling shape probably pre-dated the “round” tubers with which we are familiar, but there are ancient “round” varieties that are nearly as old as the fingerlings
As Burr noted, the fingerlings usually have tremendous disease resistance and their flavor is good, sometimes excellent. They are generally quite productive, and what Burr did not mention is that fingerlings are excellent storers. They can easily last 6 months under the right conditions.
Fingerlings, like their rounder relatives, are believed to have originated in the Andean Highlands near Lake Titicaca at elevations as high as 10,000-12,000 feet. Today, some of the most important research related to the biodiversity of the potato is being done in this region. The organization funding and overseeing this research is The International Potato Center (CIP) located in Lima, Peru.
CIP tracks more than 4000 different potato varieties worldwide with most of these varieties indigenous to the Peruvian Andes. The CIP genebank maintains the largest collection of potato germplasm in the world including more than 7000 accessions of native, wild and improved varieties (An accession is a collection of plant material – seeds, roots, tubers, cuttings, etc. – from a particular location.). One of CIP’s most active partners is China. China is the largest consumer of potatoes in the world, and the potato is one of, if not its most important food crops. China estimates that 50% of the increased food production the country will need to meet demand in the next 20 years will come from potatoes.
Potato Fields for Commercial Production
CIP has funded projects in South America, Africa, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, Russia and China to study the native, wild and cultivated edible tubers of these regions. If you are interested in potatoes, you need to visit the website of The International Potato Center, http://www.cipotato.org/, and download their catalog. The catalog is entirely in Spanish, but even if you do not know Spanish (and I don’t), the incredible pictures are worth taking the time to view.
If you are just getting started with growing fingerlings or you would like to try some different varieties, the following four fingerling varieties would make excellent choices. The plants are vigorous and prolific producers, and the potatoes they produce have great flavor.
Purple Peruvian Fingerling Potato
The Purple Peruvian Fingerling Potato – This deeply purple fingerling potato is among the oldest of the potato varieties under cultivation today. The Purple Peruvian is believed to have originated high in the Peruvian Andes near Lake Titicaca and was popular with the Incan and pre-Incan cultures. It has been cultivated for at least 6000 years. This potato contains anthocyanin, an antioxidant known as an immune system booster. Purple Peruvian will bleed if boiled, but will not lose all of its color. When baked or roasted it will keep its intense bluish purple color.
Red Thumb Fingerling Potato
The Red Thumb Fingerling Potato –The progenitors of Red Thumb were Peruvian, but the potato itself is a fairly new variety. Red Thumb has a brilliant red skin and its flesh varies from light to deep pink. As with most fingerlings, it makes a great grilling and roasting potato. The flesh fades when boiled, but holds up well when baked. Combining new Red Thumb potatoes with new Purple Peruvian potatoes and a white fleshed new potato makes a great red, white and blue potato feast for Fourth of July.
The Rose Finn Apple Fingerling
The Rose Finn Apple Potato –This is a fingerling potato that was very popular in England, but little known in the US until the recent surge in interest surrounding growing potatoes in the home garden. Red Thumb has a pinkish skin and yellow flesh, but what is extraordinary about it is its flavor. This potato has the subtle flavor of an apple and is extraordinarily good. It stores well and is very prolific. When roasted it is “Out-of-This-World” good.
The Ozette Fingerling
The Ozette Fingerling Potato is probably the oldest variety still in cultivation that is commercially available. We believe that Spanish explorers carrying this variety brought it from Peru to North America where they traded the potato for objects they needed with the Makah-Ozette Indian tribe, an indigenous people of the Olympic Penninsula. What is distinctive about Ozette is its earthy taste. You can easily imagine that you are consuming an ancient vegetable when you taste the flavor of an Ozette. Mature Ozettes are large for fingerlings – a good eight inches long and thick 1 ½ inches in diameter. They have a thin cream colored skin and yellow flesh. They are exceptional when roasted, but can also be boiled, fried or baked. They are among the longest storing of all potatoes, sometimes lasting as long as 8 months.
Since 1784, the D. Landreth Seed Company www.landrethseeds.com has been providing its customers with one of the most extensive selections of fine lawn and garden seeds in the world. Our founders introduced into the United States some of the most beloved flowers and vegetables known today including the Zinnia, the white potato, various tomatoes, and our own Bloomsdale Spinach. We have become the oldest seed house in America because we are passionate in our quest for excellence in quality, service and innovation.
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