Most of the little scrapes on the skins of our potatoes healed over a few days after harvest. But those with big holes, either from pests or from getting stabbed with the compost fork during harvest, cannot be stored. They will, if they haven’t already, start to mold and fester around those gaping wounds.
Here’s what to look for when inspecting your homegrown taters for long-term storage: Pick them up one at a time a give them a good, thorough once-over. This is worth the time, trust me, because just as one bad apple can spoil the barrel one rotten potato can infect its neighbors and leave you with an inedible, hard-to-clean-up, stinky-ass mess.
- Look. Is the skin intact? If there are any small abrasions have they healed over (that is, is the spot darkened and dried to a tan color? It should not be damp and it should not be the color of the spud’s interior flesh.)? If yes, it’s OK to store. If there are any deep holes in the skin set it aside to be mashed for freezing or to be eaten in a week’s time.
- Feel. Are there any squishy spots? A good potato, just like a good apple, should be rock hard. If your potato has any give it needs to be eaten stat or, if too squishy, relegated to the compost heap.
- Smell. Perhaps the nick in the skin that let in the bacteria that are molding your potato was too small for you to see and perhaps the rot is deep inside and the structural integrity of your tuber is not yet compromised. How do you know? Smell it. A healthy potato smells like dirt or has a pleasant mustiness (like fresh straw or a used bookstore). There is no mistaking the smell of a potato that has started to turn: it smells quite powerfully like bad fish.
Potatoes store best in moist darkness (light will make them sprout) in a temperature range of 36 to 40 degrees (Fahrenheit). It’s still a lot warmer than that in our root cellar, but the root cellar is a lot cooler than the back room while it’s still summer.
This year’s potato triage resulted in three piles: 1) Gotta use it ASAP, 2) Better use it up in a week or so, and 3) Looks perfect, throw it in the dungeon. If it had a big hole or a squishy spot I carved those off and made plain, unseasoned mashed potatoes. Plain, raw potatoes don’t freeze well at home (commercial growers have flash freezers) because they form large crystals which thaw into watery mush. Boiled and mashed, with just a touch of milk, they thaw out a lot closer to the consistency of fresh mashed potatoes and can be used as is or in potato soup.
The tubers that needed to be used quickly, but not that very minute were kept in the kitchen and used within a week. (Thank goodness for the Labor Day BBQ that gave me an excuse to make a crapload of potato salad or we’d have gotten pretty sick of taters by the end of the week.)
The magnificent specimens were bagged (in paper) and set in the root cellar where they should (fingers crossed) last for a few months. Remember that long term storage does not mean abandonment. Once every few weeks or once a month you need to get in there and root around and make sure everyone is still OK.