Food and drink: A little r-e-s-p-e-c-t 

Potatoes come into their own as big shooters on the world food stage

Here it is, almost the middle of November in the Year of the Potato and I’ve yet to pay tribute to this ubiquitous tuber. So please allow me, the original half-Polish quarter-Irish mad potato junkie from Edmonton, to redeem myself.

Granted, it’s not quite the same as the Chinese lunar years devoted to the pig, the rabbit, the monkey and the rest of the menagerie, although this might be a concept worth pursuing. (I can picture it now — the post office issuing commemorative stamps and everyone divining their inner nature depending on which of the vegetative lunar years they are born in: Year of the Turnip; Year of the Sweet Onion, or the Crookneck Squash…)

No, in case you’ve been asleep all year, this is the International Year of the Potato, as declared by the UN. And it’s funny how adding the word “International” elevates the concept from mockery to mighty serious. Heck, the little ol’ potato even has its own trendy website now, dubbed “Hidden Treasure” (www.potato2008.org).

Maybe it’s the UN designation or maybe it’s the fact that the potato has finally come into its own as a food item worth paying attention to, but it’s being elevated to something of an edible celebrity.

“The potato is getting a little respect,” says Bruce Miller, co-owner of Across the Creek Organics in Pemberton. “And so are the farmers growing them.”

Around the Millers’ place, a mere 800,000 pounds of certified organic potatoes are nestled in the root cellar right now. That’s more or less the annual harvest from the 500-acre farm that has been in his family since 1895. Three generations, all of them growing potatoes.

Pemberton, of course, is rooted in potato history and culture, pun intended. It was the first area in the world to grow virus-free commercial seed potatoes, mainly due to its once relatively isolated location — the tentacle of Highway 99 reached it only in 1975.

But, thankfully, some 10 years ago, Bruce and his family decided to move into organic, and what I call cream of the crop potatoes for eating rather than seeding.

Now at better food stores across the south coast you can find a bag of the Millers’ certified organic German butter potatoes or russets or Russian blues (check out the antioxidant levels in those purple babies) with their cute little “peas gowing a pod” logo that always makes me smile.

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