Meet my potato-lady!

All regular market shoppers have their favourite stalls – they might be the ‘pasta-shop’, ‘soup seller’, ‘cheese-place’ ‘carrot-man’ or in my case, ‘the potato place’.

At stall 50, my ‘potato place’ (the proper name is: Georgie’s Harvest Potatoes & Herbs, but I don’t think I have ever called it that – I always remember the potatoes before I think of anything else) you can buy all manner of potatoes, pumpkins, garlic, olive oil and even home-grown horseradish and turmeric.

I adore these potatoes! Every time I visit the market, I am tempted by roasted spuds with garlic, pink potato mash (yes, it really does exist if you shop at the right potato place) and dark purple congo gnocchi. I also come away with handfuls of dark purple carrots, olive oil and sharp-tasting wasabi root.
You might be wondering what is so good about potatoes? Of course, they are available just about everywhere. The supermarket sells them for next to nothing, and they were originally considered a poor-man’s food.

Why make the effort to go to a stall that predominates in potatoes of all things?
Well for starters, these are not ordinary potatoes. Unlike supermarket potatoes, these potatoes are sourced from Victorian and Tasmanian farms. They are always fresh, ready in the peak of their season and delicately cared for.

The beauty of specialty market store-holders is that they always have a better knowledge of their produce. You can find out where your food comes from, how fresh it is, and of course, the best way to cook with it. With only minimal effort, Georgie has opened my mind to all the beauty, quality and integrity of the humble spud.
For instance, last Saturday when I did my regular shop, Georgie explained to me that the Kind Edward is currently the best potato to buy during April. It is in the peak of its season and is a beautiful roasting potato (perfect for the Easter weekend). Of course, if you are opting for the traditional fish-and-chips on Good Friday, it might be worth picking up some Royal Blue, Kennebec or Idaho varieties as they are excellent chippers.
People shop at the potato stall for a variety of reasons. The stall has a lot of cultural significance, with a wide customer base, and it is one of the few, or perhaps the only, place in Melbourne where you can buy specialized varieties of potato that are fresh, and in season.

Last weekend, with Georgie’s recommendation I purchased several specialty potatoes that made a delectable pink-potato-mash (yes, you read correctly. The mash turned pink after we had boiled and mashed up the spuds!!). The week before, I bought several odd-looking purple congo varieties that were able to be rolled up into fantastic-looking bright purple potato gnocchi. Kids that have previously stated that they don’t like vegetables have eaten several bowls of these bizarre-looking, brightly coloured spuds, and it blows my mind that I didn’t think of serving them up sooner.

According to Georgie, the potatoes are treated with optimum and plenty of TLC. This is not just a marketing spin, but an important technique of preservation for optimum nutrition of each spud. They are always bought fresh and in season, and are kept at an optimum temperature in the store throughout the year.

Georgie sources sixty per cent of her produce directly from farmers. She pays them the going rate of the wholesale markets and tries to build stronger relationships with them wherever she can. ‘I like to shake the hand of the person that grows our food,’ says Georgie. ‘It’s also reassuring to know exactly where our food comes from’.

Georgie warns me that if you ever buy supermarket potatoes, be sure to NEVER buy them washed. Apart from the fact that the washing process utilizes a handful of detergents and chemicals, the process also causes the potato to produce toxins. When potatoes are exposed to light – be it from sunlight when they sit on top of the soil, or supermarket lights when they are clean and washed, they protect themselves by a natural defence mechanism of toxin production which discourages predators from eating them. You might notice a slight green tinge when this happens.

So when I shop at the market this Saturday, Georgie will get my usual visit followed by my ‘fish-shop,’ ‘oyster-place’ and ‘vegetable-spot’ (more on them later. You will have to read the next blog). My resolution next year will be to start knowing more of the names of these stall-holders. I’d like to build these relationships in the future, as the more I shop, the more that I realize how little I actually know….

Potato tips:
-    Never buy washed potatoes. Look for naturally-dirty potatoes and wash them yourself, at home with a traditional potato-scrubber.
-    Ask your stall holder about what is fresh and in season. The skin is usually a good indicator of freshness. It should be taut and not blistered.
-    Wherever possible, try to experiment with brightly-coloured, heritage  spud varieties. Many studies have indicated that they are better for you. They also have a wonderful novelty-factor for kids.
-    Don’t hesitate to ask your stall-holder the best ways to cook up your spuds. Some are better suited to roasting, others to boiling and mashing. It depends a lot on the starch content of the potato. But your stall holder should be able to tell you this.

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