Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Potato Man

I met Sven in Paris where we enjoyed shopping together for potatoes at the open-air market. I used them in stews. New potatoes tasted great boiled fresh with butter and parsley. Potatoes were always on the menu when we ate out. French cuisine satisfied Sven’s craving for the humble tuber, the result of having been raised on a potato-rich diet in Sweden.

My husband retired nine years ago and we moved from Europe to Cape Cod. Since American meals consist of a vegetable, meat or fish, and a starch, I started alternating rice, pasta, and potatoes at dinner. Little did I know this regime was a recipe for disaster. Sven began to lose his joie de vivre. He did not walk with the usual swagger, the glint left his eye, and meals ceased to be the treat they once were. Something was wrong . . .

One day I decided to start a vegetable garden in order to provide fresh tomatoes to guests at our bed and breakfast. While perusing a seed catalogue, I noticed Swedish peanut fingerlings and remembered a neighbor’s comment that potatoes would thrive in the sandy soil of Wellfleet. It occurred to me that Sven might enjoy growing spuds. After all, didn’t potato plants dot the fields around his hometown? His mother had even produced “snow balls” in her backyard. Perhaps we should try growing potatoes, too? Without hesitation, I added a pound of “Swedish peanuts” to my order.

When the seed potatoes arrived, Sven showed me how to cut them so two eyes were on the surface and explained the hilling-up process. Eagerly he planted the spuds himself. He began to go out into the garden more often. Together we watched as the little plants began to sprout and flower. He watered the plants with care and picked off potato beetles. Then one day Sven pronounced the growing period over. Our crop was ready. Digging our first potatoes was quite an event. At dinner that night Sven slid a slice of fingerling into his mouth as if it were a communion wafer. A look of bliss spread across his face. In fact, the potatoes made him so happy that I decided to order more. In subsequent years, I purchased five pounds, then eight, then eighteen. Each year we try new varieties. Our organic potatoes taste better than any I have ever purchased at a supermarket.

Sven has become Potato-Farmer-in-Chief, responsible for our potato crop. Every fall he shovels in compost and manure. In the spring, he tills the soil and digs furrows. He makes holes in neat little rows and tucks the tubers into the earth. Together we wait expectantly as the garden blossoms with potato plants flowering purple, white and pink. With bees buzzing around us, we hold hands and contemplate our potato fields, happy at last. “I guess I’m a potato man,” Sven concludes as he serves up a feast of fresh boiled new potatoes with salmon and dill. Potato man he is.