A roast chicken with herbed potatoes screams winter dish. But that’s what my husband suggested for dinner last Sunday, a rainy, cool day, and it felt just right. We had a lean, free-range bird in the freezer, a gift from friends living on a Maine Farmland Trust-protected property in Jefferson, who’d raised and slaughtered more chickens than their family of three can eat or keep.

Freshly dug Yukon Gold potatoes from Applewald Farm in Litchfield sat on our countertop. Now that I am 32 weeks into my second pregnancy, such simple comfort foods appeal. I craved them whole, in their paper-thin, uncured skins, boiled in salty water, then buttered and buttermilked and tossed with whatever fragrant herbs I snipped from the garden. Salty, buttery starches satisfy more than meals of reptilian, squeamishness-inducing birds at this stage of pregnancy – though I do crave the nourishing broth I made with the spent carcass.

My economist husband, Dan, on the other hand, gnaws those bones like a stereotypical Paleo man, but complained my potatoes lacked fat. He likes potatoes fried or mashed, doused with butter or cream. Likewise, our 4-year-old, Theo, craves French fries and chips but usually shuns spuds in their recognizable whole or quartered form.

Oh, and Theo is always happy to eat a potato doughnut. We both first fell for the cinnamon-sugared potato donuts from Gathering Together Farm in Corvallis, Oregon, where we used to live. We still miss them, even though we now enjoy the berry-stained glazed ones from Portland’s The Holy Donut. When on sabbatical next academic year in Charlottesville, Virginia, we can get our fix at Spudnuts, but they’re made with potato flour, not real Maine potatoes or roasted sweet potatoes.

So we’re eating up Maine’s new potatoes – and New England’s beloved doughnuts – while we can, before we depart in mid-August. I’m prodding Theo to embrace potatoes in their freshest form. He’s taken some tentative bites.

I didn’t plant potatoes this year, fearing they wouldn’t be ready to harvest before we left. I miss them, despite the pests they attract. Digging up pink and purple fingerlings like so many Easter eggs helps hook a kid’s interest. I grew potatoes for the first time when I lived in Oregon. When I tried to do the same here, I received complaint emails from the Tom Settlemire Community Garden in Brunswick; the orange Colorado potato beetles, their bright caviar eggs and squishy, pink alien larvae had infested my overgrown plot, then invaded the tidier neighboring beds, where they feasted on tomatoes, peppers and eggplant foliage.


“It’s hard to grow organic potatoes,” Stephanie O’Neil, founder of Farm to Table Kids and North Yarmouth mother of two told me, explaining why she doesn’t grow potatoes in her garden beds at the Sea Dog restaurants in Top- sham, Bangor and North Conway, New Hampshire, or at her 4-acre homestead. Those notorious potato beetles, resistant to many insecticides, seem indestructible. What I need are backyard chickens to gobble them up.

“The cucumber beetles are hard enough to keep up with, eating everything including pumpkins, gourds and watermelons,” O’Neil lamented as our sons chased each other in the vacant parking lot next to her raised beds in Topsham. “Potato beetles are just so hardy and rugged.”

She shares in my quest for creative ways to get more veggies into our preschoolers, feisty, picky eaters who would rather pick and eat peas fresh from the garden than sit and patiently eat them off a plate. Our kids do love the fresh, homemade potato chips the Sea Dog feeds them after garden clubs in exchange for the free garden produce O’Neil gives their chefs.

Chips and fries show how enough fat – and salt – makes potatoes come alive. The salt especially shouldn’t be overlooked. Dan Sortwell, roaster-owner of the Big Barn Coffee Co. in Wiscasset, recently taught me about “salt potatoes,” a popular festival dish around Syracuse, New York, where summer’s just-harvested young potatoes are boiled in brine. The salty water forms a crust on the thin skins, ensuring flavorful, creamy, fluffy potatoes. In his book “Salt: A World History,” Mark Kurlansky describes how 19th-century Irish immigrant salt miners would boil potatoes in the naturally brined springs around Syracuse, which fed the table salt industry. No wonder potatoes – and corn on the cob – taste so good at a clambake when steamed on a bed of sea water-soaked rockweed, alongside lobsters, mussels and cherrystones.

This is the season to step up one’s potato game. Kids might enjoy the presentation of fanned-out Hasselback “hedgehog” potatoes. Since heat-seeking sweet potatoes don’t grow well in our chilly state, consider glazing their savory cousins with a gloss of honey or maple syrup. And a little sugar makes the tangy dressing of a warm, bacon-laced German potato salad sing.

But my Theo isn’t convinced. I can’t even get him to eat potatoes on pizza, an unlikely carb combination I relished recently at soon-to-shutter Flipside in Brunswick. The dill-roasted circles were slightly undercooked then set atop raw pizza dough with feta and olives. Eating it reminded me that one of these days I need to bake a quiche or goat cheese tart in a potato crust.


We won’t be back from our sabbatical in time to cut and cure eye pieces, chit (pre-sprout) and plant potatoes next spring, but I look forward to trying the crop organically again in 2017, potato pests be damned. I’ve already picked out the varieties I want to order from Fedco’s Moose Tubers or Wood Prairie farm in Bridgewater, in a group order with my Brunswick bulk foods buying club. Hopefully, then almost-first-grader Theo and my second son, due in September, will help me water them, pick off those obnoxious beetles and, eventually, dig up our very own spuds in our August garden.


This recipe comes from the blog of Farm to Table Kids founder Stephanie O’Neil, who says the recipe’s mix-and-match toppings encourage her picky kids Autumn, 5, and Joey, 3, to go beyond chips and french fries. O’Neil says the recipe is very adaptable: Try adding kale, spinach, pesto or bacon to the gratins.

Makes 1 dozen cupcake-sized stacks

1 large Maine Russet potato (or several smaller potatoes), scrubbed or peeled

8 ounces Gruyère or cheddar cheese, grated


Chopped herbs, such as rosemary, dill, thyme or sage

Salt and pepper, to taste

1¼ cups milk

Optional toppings bar: ramekins of sour cream, crumbled bacon, chopped scallions, minced parsley, Maine seaweed (dulse or kombu flakes) –the sky’s the limit!

Grease a 12-cup cupcake pan with butter or oil. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Slice the potato(es) horizontally into quarter-inch discs, which must fit inside the greased cupcake pan. If the potato rounds are too big, cut them in half, hiding the halved pieces in the middle of the au gratins and using the whole rounds for the tops and bottoms, which will make the individual gratins easier to remove from the muffin pan.

To create the potato stacks, layer a few potatoes, then the cheese, then a couple more potato discs and any greens/herbs. Add a top layer of potatoes and scatter with a pinch of cheese. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle each gratin with 1½ tablespoons of milk. Be sure to stack the potatoes 2 to 3 slices above the rim of the muffin tin, because they shrink when they bake.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the potatoes are fork tender and golden brown. Let the gratins cool for at least 5 minutes before dislodging from the pan. Serve the stacks by themselves on a platter, or with the optional toppings.

Laura McCandlish is a Brunswick-based food writer and radio producer. Follow her on Twitter@baltimoregon and read her blog at baltimoregon.com.

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