The simple potato. I am digging up our small crop as we prepare to depart Svaneti for the winter, using a spade. Even with my slight weight, the ground is soft from rain and I don’t have to dig deep. They’re just below the soil, waiting for my pleasure. Not huge, compared to the glorious first couple of years here; some thumbnail-small. But all worthy of harvest. Beets and carrots will follow. The photo of me is in a style which needs its own name, although I’m aware it’s one of likely billions: how do you abbreviate “shadow selfie”? Salfie, shalfie? It was a better angle, so I went with it.
Such easy work, the whole thing from start to finish! Hoeing a shallow line in after the snow-melt; planting “eyes” and covering with the soil and a bit of mature manure; letting spring rain do its job. Late autumn, as above. Let them dry on the floor in a single layer, then bag for the whole winter, or store them in a dark cellar if you have much more than our single sack or two, preferably with rather than without the thin soil layer, which is protective. They keep well; but don’t let apples or pears near them, because they give off a gas which will spoil these fruits! The potatoes may go green, and potentially mildly poisonous, in light; but the green can be cut off and the rest used safely.
Keep the skins on if at all you can: just scrub them well. Right there is all the nutrition they have. This isn’t done much in this part of the world, but more’s the pity.
Apparently Russia’s 18th century Empress, Catherine the Great, liked German-imported potato plants chiefly for their flowers, not for the tubers at all. But the name “kartoffel” was borrowed into Russian, and from there into Georgian and other languages of the Empire or the USSR.
In previous years, my wise wife would accept payment of shop customers’ debt with us in either potatoes which we ate all winter, or local sulguni cheese. This latter, having acquired it cheap, she would store in brine and then sell in the more expensive season. Our own potato harvest has gone down in amount year by year as we have seen it becoming too much for the two of us, a distraction from other more important things we are here to accomplish.
I like preparing the potatoes best either baked in the oven and then halved, with butter, cheese, salt and pepper; or, the next day after the baking, sliced and fried. But there are so many things you can do with them: mash, roast, grate for pancakes, mash and stuff into little dough pies. Or something more elaborate, if you have time and patience: scoop out the flesh from the baked halves, and mix this with any of butter, cheese, bacon bits or flaked seafood, fried onion, garlic, mashed boiled parsnip, corn, herbs; spoon back into the halves, brush with more butter, and reheat to brown. Sensational. A fond childhood Christmas recipe is potatoes and parsnips boiled and mashed together, with gravy on top. They might be a very basic food, but you can do so many different things with them.
Svan potatoes are famous lower down, in Zugdidi, and sought after for their size and flavor. This year, all our neighbors are complaining about small amounts of both harvest total and individual average potato size; which happens sometimes, farming being such a risky business. I hope they get what they need for their own winter staples and to sell. As I have written before, few people around us have the luxury of choice to farm or not that we have. Just as well for us, perhaps, as we have no children to teach the tasks as they grow up and then have to take it all over from us when it becomes entirely too much. We do what the two of us can, and buy the rest. Potato, many thanks to you for your humble exterior and vital role in keeping us going.