Cooking from the Farms: Purple Potatoes and Green Beans

The following story seemed like one I should tell instead of keep to myself.

Please take some time today to prepare and eat something really fresh and wonderful, even if it is the humblest of humble sandwiches.  Use some good bread and maybe a slice of a farm tomato, or whatever it is you like that is newly picked.  As a side for your sandwich, try a variation of the potato salad I offer below.  Savor every bite.  It matters.

You reach for your dinner fork and I let you. Your hand hovers over the place setting but grasps at air, the connection of fingers to metal difficult after Saturday’s fall.

“I’ll do it,” I say.  “I’ll feed you.”

Your mouth opens at my words, at the approaching fork.  I know babies and tiny eager mouths and this is nothing like.  This is the desperate dependence of hatchlings with wide open beaks.  That, and resignation.

A forkful of this, a forkful of that.  In go the carrots and green beans, the potato, the chicken in tomato sauce, everything mashed or minced or shredded so you won’t choke. After only a few bites you tell me you have had enough.  You ask for dessert.  Red jell-o with a rosette of whipped cream.  I switch to the spoon.

“Is it raspberry or cherry?” I ask as I ready more raspberry jell-o on the spoon. I’d like to know if you can tell the difference.

But you would rather talk than eat, so I stop to listen.  The spoon rests for now on the rim of the dessert dish.

You talk for nearly an hour and tell me so many things.

That Dad visits every day and that it doesn’t bother you, that now you truly believe in an afterlife.

That people are tittering behind your back and don’t believe you see what you do.

That among the many things you see that others don’t are farm animals and horses.  That the horses are often too close to my children.  That you worry about the toddlers being trampled.

“Are horses gentle?” you ask.

“Yes,” I answer.  “Gentle creatures.”

“Except when something scares them?” you want to know.  “They startle easily?”

“Maybe.  But the children won’t startle them,” I say.  “They are quiet children.”

“Yes, they’re good children.  That baby is so good when you bring him to see me at night, even though he is up so late.

“You were a good baby,” you remind me.  “But your sister cried and cried for six months.  Until she could pull herself up.  She’s good now, though.  Everyone knows how good she is.”

Yes, she is good, the oldest daughter who spoonfed you an ice cream sundae yesterday, your favorite hot fudge.  Once upon a time she cried and I was quiet but here we are, all these years later, equal measures of tears and calm in both of us as we try to accomplish the same thing: feeding you.

Your hands reach toward your plate again.

“Here, I’ve got the spoon,” I tell you but your hands move beyond mine, edge past them to close around something you see floating above the lunch tray. Fingers over, thumbs under, your hands form a loose cage around something you can see but I cannot.  You bring what you are holding to your mouth and you mime a bite.  You start to chew.

“Do you have a sandwich?” I ask.

“Yes,” you answer.

A real sandwich to you.  As real as what you see of my grown, strapping children, that they are youngsters at the mercy of trampling hooves.

“Is it good?” I ask.  Something else I’d like to know.

You chew and swallow.  You look right at me.

“Yes.  It is.”

A Simple Potato Salad made with Any Kind of Small, Waxy Potato and Green Beans

Last week I chose a pound of purple potatoes at Heron Pond Farm, purple through and through.

A week ago I had other new potatoes to deal with so I held on to the purples, hoping to get another pound this Tuesday to make a large batch of funky looking purple potato salad with chives and bacon.

Well, this week brought another pound, but the purple was only skin deep.

This week also brought scorching heat, which meant that my potato salads would be bacon-free.  Today my kitchen registers 90 degrees on the Thermapen; no amount of money could get me standing over a pan of hot bacon grease in an already 90-degree kitchen.

So I wouldn’t have bacon.  And I wouldn’t have one large potato salad, I would have two: one purple and one white with purple skins.

But sometimes when life brings you two kinds of potatoes and fry-prohibitive heat, it also brings you the second round of slender and dark green beans.

In summer, new potatoes and tender green beans fall in love with each other and long to get married.  That is a food truth.  They have certain requirements for their union – doesn’t everyone? – but the list isn’t too demanding.  A good red or white wine vinegar, some mustard, extra virgin olive oil.  You might already have everything you need at hand.  Chances are you even have a shallot or sweet red onion lying around, and some chives or other delicately flavored herb on your deck.

The beans go into the steamer for only a minute or two.  The potatoes are steamed too, not boiled, and they take more than a minute or two to cook to fork tender, but not that much more.  I steamed my two types of potatoes separately in case there might be a color transfer issue between the purple flesh and the white, so it all took a little extra time, but really the difference was negligible in the grand scheme of things.

  • 2 pounds small, waxy new potatoes or fingerlings, cut up into uniform size pieces
  • 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed
  • 1 good size shallot, minced
  • 3 Tbsp. red or white wine vinegar
  • 1 generous teaspoon (the tableware kind) of dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • chives to taste ( I like to use a lot)

Halve the green beans and steam them in a basket set over well-salted boiling water for a minute or two until crisp tender.  Drain and immediately place the beans into iced cold water to stop them from cooking.  This way they will retain their bright color.  When the beans have chilled in the water, drain them and set them aside for assembly.

Steam the potato pieces in a basket set over well-salted boiling water until fork tender.  This usually takes about 15 minutes, but may take more or less time depending on the size of your potato pieces.  Check at intervals.

While the potatoes steam, prepare your dressing.  Place the vinegar, shallot, mustard, salt, and pepper n a large glass or ceramic bowl.

Whisk to blend and set aside.

When the potatoes are tender, remove the basket from the water and drain the potatoes briefly.  Place the hot potatoes into the vinegar mixture.  Stir gently to combine and let sit until cooled.  When cooled down, pour the olive oil over the potatoes, add the chopped chives and green beans.

Stir everything together gently  to combine.

The potato salad may be served immediately at room temperature, or it may be chilled until you  are ready to eat.  If it happens to be a hot night, serve this chilled with your favorite sandwich.

©2010  Jane A. Ward