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Published May 29, 2009, 03:28 PM

Wood Working: Seeds or skins? Just part of the Great Potato Debate

In these parlous times, it’s a great day when matters of a financial nature go your way.

By: Dave Wood, columnist, River Falls Journal

In these parlous times, it’s a great day when matters of a financial nature go your way.

In the past few months my retirement account has been bombarded, thanks to the jackals of Wall Street.

My wife hasn’t done too well either. She has part of her paycheck deposited in a tax-free account, but in the past year the market has been so bad that despite her sizeable donations, she actually lost money.

So I am happy to report that I recently went to Dick’s Fresh Market and left having cornered the seed-potato market.

It makes feel just a bit like Cornelius Vanderbilt, who was always cornering markets back in the 19th century. Corny, however, never managed to corner the seed-potato market.

Not long before the writing of this column, Dick had bushels of seed potatoes in the produce section, including the fashionable Yukon Golds and the ever-popular Pontiacs and Norlands. But I put off buying because snow was still on the ground.

So as soon as the snow vanished overnight, I made my way to Dick’s and what did I discover?

A very frightening economic predictor. Perched next to the salted-in-the-shell peanuts was a tiny canister with a few Yukon Golds at the bottom.

“What gives?’ asked I.

“What gives,” replied the produce manager, “is that we have sold out of seed potatoes. No Pontiacs, no Norlands and just a few Yukon Golds.”

“Why,” asked I, “didn’t you order enough?”

“Order enough? I ordered 1,000 pounds, twice as many we ordered last year, and we’re all sold out. We don’t know if we can get any more. Seems that customers are planting potatoes this year as a hedge against the economy.”

I quickly grabbed an empty sack and took all that was left, thus cornering the seed potato market — ala Vanderbilt.

So it goes without saying that people must really be worried if they think they can save money by raising their own potatoes.

My father was one who would have been first in line for the seed potatoes. He was a frustrated farmer and a big garden was as close as he ever managed to be a wealthy agricultural landowner.

So every year until he was well into his 70s, he planted ten 400-foot rows of russets for winter and Pontiacs for summer.

He didn’t buy them because they tasted better than store bought because he had no sense of taste after a catastrophic sinus operation as a teenager.

He planted them because he wanted tubs and tubs of spuds to give away to the town’s widows and to scratch his itch to be a farmer.

My stepmother couldn’t figure it out. Why was he spending all this money on seed potatoes?

She grew up in a family even poorer than my father’s and said they never bought seed potatoes. They saved the peelings from last year’s crop and planted them. My father couldn’t figure what they must have been thinking.

But one year, he relinquished two rows to his wife, saying, “OK, you plant your potato peelings and I’ll plant my certified seed, and we’ll see who comes out on top.”

Autumn came and they made their ways to the garden and started digging. Imagine his chagrin when Edna dug up her russets that were the same size as his.

He grumbled and went right out the next spring and bought a bushel of seed potatoes. His reasoning: “You’d have to eat a lot of potatoes to get enough peelings to plant ten 400-foot rows.”

Gardener’s tip: If you insist on raising dry-as-dust and mealy russets, there’s only one way to prepare them so they taste as good as waxy potatoes like Pontiacs.

Peel and boil them and make mashed potatoes, to which you add copious amounts of butter, cream, goat cheese and horseradish.

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 426-9554.