Executive Chef Fabiola Ponce-Wyatt has long been a supporter of the farm-to-table approach to cooking, a passion she applied when creating the menu at Grains of Wrath. With her focus on eating and cooking with the seasons, you may be surprised to learn that an unassuming dish falls into this category – French fries.
With summer in full swing, peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes will be dominating menus throughout the area. But some items, like French fries, will be less crispy. Why? Because the potatoes purchased at the start of growing season (late spring, early summer) are from last year’s harvest.
Are you one of the many folks who never thought about potatoes as a seasonal vegetable? Sure, you would never expect to order an heirloom tomato salad in the winter or butternut squash ravioli in the summer, but potatoes somehow seem different.
This oversight illuminates the reason why we need to change how we think of food. In order to do this, you will need to start somewhere. Why not start with the potato?
A Brief History of the Spud
Potatoes were first cultivated by the Incas in Peru around 8,000 B.C. In 1536, Spanish Conquistadors discovered the plant while in South America and brought it back to Europe. From there, their popularity spread, as they were easier to grow than other staple crops and provided more nutrients. Potatoes arrives in Virginia in 1621 and the first potato patch was created in New Hampshire in 1719. They did not arrive in Idaho, the current largest producer of potatoes, until 1836 when missionaries began moving west.
Today, potatoes are the fourth most farmed crop on the planet.
The Planting, Harvesting and Storing of Potatoes
The ideal temperature for growing potatoes is 60 to 65° F with nights falling below 57° F. This explains why potatoes are a summer crop up north and a late winter/early spring crop in the south.
For us, potatoes are planted in the spring. Note that I did not say seeds or starters, I said potatoes are planted. That’s right, actual potatoes are planted to grow more potatoes. From the eyes of that planted potato (known technically as dormant buds), roots and a stem will begin to grow. New potatoes will sprout from the roots.
It takes around 100 days for the potatoes to grow to their fullest potential.
Once the potatoes are harvested, they must be cured before they are put into storage. This helps them toughen up their skins to extend their shelf life. The potatoes are laid out in a dark, cool room for several weeks.
After this process, the potatoes are put into storage. They can wait in storage anywhere from four to nine months, depending on the type of potato.
How Grains of Wrath Uses the Potatoes
The potatoes used in our House Fries are sourced from Pacific Coast Fruit Company, a local, family owed distributor. Fabiola makes sure to buy potatoes grown in the northwest. We use russet potatoes used in our fries; these potatoes are primarily grown in Oregon and Washington, with the occasional spud from Idaho.
The process of making our House Fries takes a day and a half.
When the fries arrive, they are cut with a manual fry cutter into five-gallon buckets. When the buckets are almost full, cold water is run over the potatoes to remove excess starch. The potatoes are then covered with more cold water and stored in the walk in fridge for 24 hours. This ensures the potatoes get crispy when fried.
After their soak, the fries are drained and blanched. This involves frying them for the first time in a 300 degree fryer. The low temperature cooks the fries without giving them any color. The fries are blanched for exactly 2.5 minutes. They are then placed in a tray to cool completely
Finally, the French fries are fried to order. This second fry gives them their color and cooks them the rest of the way.
While this entire process is labor intensive, it is the only way to ensure a superior French fry. It is important to note that fries made from real potatoes will never be the same as those purchased at a fast food establishment. This is because their fries are chemically altered to the point where you are no longer eating a real potato.
The House Fries are available on their own or with any of our sandwiches or burgers.
Eating local, seasonally-focused food ensures what you are getting is fresh and nutritious. It also just tastes better.