In Aroostook County, gangs of harvesters – from school kids who still pick by hand to professionals who run huge machines that dig the potatoes and then scoop them up – are at work at this time of year.

Maine potatoes, large and small, are mostly in the “all-purpose” category – that is, they are somewhere in between waxy and starchy, and hence are good for a wide variety of uses. Here are some recipes with which to use the fruits of the county’s labor.

CLASSIC SCALLOPED POTATOES

This old-fashioned, lightly flour-thickened scalloped potato recipe is not terribly rich, and not fancied up with anything more than a light sprinkling of optional herbs. The creamy potatoes go with absolutely everything, including roast beef, ham or pork, chicken or a plain hamburger.

Serves 6.

2 1/2 pounds all-purpose potatoes such as Maine potatoes or Yukon golds

1 small onion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

3 cups whole or reduced-fat milk

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme, sage or a combination (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a shallow 2 1/2- to 3-quart baking dish.

Peel potatoes and cut into thin slices. In a large bowl, combine potatoes, onion, flour, salt and pepper. Toss with your hands to mix thoroughly, and spread out in the prepared dish.

In a saucepan, combine the milk and butter and heat over medium heat until butter melts and steam rises, about 2 minutes. Pour over the potatoes and cover dish loosely with foil.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with the optional chopped herbs, and continue to bake uncovered until the potatoes are very tender, about 30 minutes. Serve directly from the baking dish.

FLUFFY MASHED POTATOES AND VARIATIONS

Most Maine children require mashed potatoes on the plate when any gravy is present, and Maine spuds make excellent mashed potatoes. I’ve had good luck making them ahead, holding them for a few hours at room temperature, and then reheating in the microwave.

Delicious variations on the theme follow. Use your own discretion when adding the butter – perhaps less for weekday meals, more for special occasions.

Serves 6.

3 pounds russet or all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks

3 to 8 tablespoons butter

About 2/3 cup milk (any type) or light cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook potatoes in a large pot of boiling salted water until very tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, return them to the pot, and place over low heat for about 1 minute, until potatoes are thoroughly dry. Transfer to a large bowl or leave in the saucepan to mash.

Mash potatoes with a ricer, potato masher or electric mixer. Add the butter and most of the milk to the potatoes. Mash until smooth, adding as much more milk as is necessary to make a smooth, fluffy puree. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve immediately, or hold at room temperature and reheat in a microwave.

VARIATIONS:

Mashed Mainers with Mint – A suggestion from Imogene Wolcott, renowned authority on New England cooking. Shred about 2 tablespoons of mint leaves and add to the potatoes. Add a pinch of sugar too, to enhance the sweetness.

Camp Potato Peel Mashed Potatoes – Many Maine children have the privilege of attending overnight outdoor nature education workshops. When my children went, the cook left most of the peels on his potatoes (easier and more nutritious), and presented them in such a way that the young campers all loved them! They are absolutely delicious, in a rustic sort of way.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes – Cook 3 peeled and halved garlic cloves with the potatoes and puree along with them.

Scallion or Chive Mashed Potatoes – One of my favorites, especially when chives are thick in the garden. Stir in 3 or 4 tablespoons chives or minced scallions after the potatoes are mashed.

SPICY POTATOES ON THE HALF-SHELL

At the “Big E,” New England’s enormous annual summer exposition in Springfield, Mass., every state has their own hall to showcase their best products and foodstuffs. The Maine hall includes (alongside the blueberries and lobster) the Maine Potato Board’s concession, featuring baked stuffed potatoes. It’s the most popular lunch item in the vicinity, with long lines forming starting midmorning. The invigorating kick of minced hot peppers is a terrific enhancement.

Serves 4.

4 large baking potatoes

2/3 cup reduced-fat or regular sour cream

1 cup shredded cheese such as medium-sharp cheddar or Colby, divided

2 scallions, finely chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped, or more to taste

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pierce potatoes in several places, place on an oven rack, and bake until soft, 45 to 55 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sour cream, half of the cheese, the scallions, jalapeno and salt.

Cut a long slit in the tops of the potatoes, squeeze open and scoop out the pulp, leaving a 1/2-inch-thick shell. Add pulp to sour cream mixture and use a potato masher or a large fork to mix until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings to your preference, adding more hot pepper or salt if desired. Refill shells with the mixture, sprinkle with remaining cheese and place in a baking pan. (Can be held for up to 1 hour at cool room temperature before reheating.)

Reheat potatoes, uncovered, in a 400-degree oven until filling is hot and cheese melts, 15 to 20 minutes.

 

Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently “Dishing Up Maine” (Storey Publishing 2006) and “The New England Clam Shack Cookbook” (Storey 2008). She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula.