Potatoes are the Unsung Hero of the St. Patrick’s Day Meal

St. Patrick's day meals using potatoes

By: Daniel Higgins, Fond du Lac Reporter

Corned beef and cabbage take center plate in the traditional American St. Patrick’s Day meal, but don’t dismiss the importance of those taters sopping up all the overflowing goodness in a proper beer-infused broth. 

Nutritional Benefits of Potatoes

Potatoes bring nutrients like potassium and vitamin C to the plate. Though, let’s be honest, this meal isn’t about nutrition. It’s about Irish-American tradition. And flavor. Rich fat-infused beefiness spiked with pickling spices boosted by cabbage’s mildly peppery flavor. Potatoes with their starchy, mild, earthy nature are both a counterbalance to that punch of flavor but also extend it by soaking in those seasonings while simmering in the pot.

And if you’re looking to add a wee bit o’ Wisconsin to your St. Paddy’s Day meal, you can pick up some homegrown spuds

Alsum Farms and Produce

Wisconsin is the third largest potato producer in the United States, thanks to large areas of sandy, loamy soil that are ideal for growing spuds. 

Because potatoes have a shelf life measured in months, you can still find Wisconsin-grown spuds at the store thanks to longtime packers and producers like Alsum Farms and Produce. If you’ve grabbed a bag of potatoes at stores like Aldi, Piggly Wiggly, or Woodman’s, there’s a chance Alsum grew and/or packed those tubers.

Glen Alsum started the potato packaging business in 1973. The entire operation fit in a 600-square-foot potato shed. Buying from farmers and other suppliers, Alsum packaged potatoes for sales to wholesalers and grocery stores until 1981 when he died in a plane crash.

Larry Alsum, Glen’s cousin, took over the company and continued to grow the business.

Sustainable Farming

In 1992, Alsum added its own farming operations that’s grown to 3,000 acres raising russet, red, white, gold, purple and fingerling potatoes, as well as pumpkins, in the lower Wisconsin River Valley in Arena and Grand Marsh. Through the years, Alsum expanded from a 600-square-foot shed to 350,000 square feet of sheds and production space to process 200 million pounds of potatoes annually.

Pumpkins, onions and more than 300 varieties of fruits and vegetables are also part of Alsum’s business that’s headquartered in Friesland. Two hundred full-time employees work in a range of roles — including farming operations, packing, marketing and transportation — to deliver locally grown produce to national retailers and local grocery stores.

The family-owned and -operated business continues to be led by Larry as the president and CEO with his daughters Heidi Alsum-Randall and Wendy Alsum-Dykstra as chief operations officers.

Alsum-Dykstra earned this year’s Young Grower of the Year Award from the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association. Following in her father’s footsteps, Alsum-Dykstra earned bachelor of business administration and master of professional accountancy degrees from UW-Whitewater and worked outside Alsum Farms (at Larry’s insistence) before returning to the family business.

Growing up in the potato business, both daughters “had some of the hard jobs,” Alsum-Dykstra said. That included grading potatoes for packing, making many trips to the farm and doing sample size profiles. 

“The most natural fit for me was working in the office,” she said. “I always enjoyed the accounting.”  

Alsum-Dykstra does more than crunch numbers in the world of potatoes. She also serves on the WPVGA board of directors and the board of Potatoes USA, a marketing organization for potato farmers in the United States. 

Ask her about winning the Young Grower award and she will say she was pleasantly surprised having been nominated among some amazing peers.

Ask her about potatoes and she will provide an onslaught of information covering nutrition, sustainable practices, potato popularity, cost effectiveness for consumers, and recipes.

We’ll stick with how to maximize potato shelf life and a corned beef and cabbage (and potatoes) recipe.

Potato storage tips

Potatoes remain one of the more economical foods. A 5-pound bag of russet potatoes will set you back about $2.50. Or you could grab a 10-pound bag for about $4. (Cheaper if you hit a good sale.) 

Not only are spuds super economical, they are shelf life superstars, lasting several months. If you store them properly.  

Pick the perfect potato: Look for potatoes that without cuts or bruises as they tend to spoil quicker. A perfect potato has smooth, net-textured skin and few shallow eyes.

Don’t wash yet: With everything going on in the world you may be tempted to wash your potatoes as soon as you get home. Don’t. The little bit of dirt you may see protects the potato and keeps it from prematurely spoiling.

Cool but not cold: Store your potatoes between 45 and 55 degrees and never put them in the refrigerator because the average temperature is 35 degrees. If potatoes are stored below 41 degrees, the starch will turn to sugar, creating a slightly sweet taste. Basements are the ideal place to store spuds. The next best place to store potatoes is a cupboard that’s not next to the oven or other heat source. Potatoes dehydrate quicker when stored above 55 degrees.

Out of the bag storing: It’s OK to store the potatoes in their retail bags; however, they’ll hold up a little better if you remove them from the bag and place in a well-ventilated basket or bowl, as this will allow the potatoes to breathe.

Stay away from the light: Potatoes are living organisms and can reproduce on their own. Too much light (from the sun or light bulbs) will wake them up and cause the potato skins to turn a greenish color. This is normal, but green skins will give the potatoes a bitter flavor. It’s still safe to eat them; just peel off the green part and prepare as desired.

Keep ’em separated: Onions release a gas in storage that accelerates potato ripening. So keep those onions far away.

Uh oh, my potatoes sprouted: Sometimes potatoes will begin to sprout from their little “eye” indentations. This is normal, too. Pick off the sprout and the potato is ready to be prepared.

Rotate: FIFO means First in, first out. If you bought spuds and still have a few left from your last grocery shopping trip, use the older ones first.

Corned beef and cabbage

Corned Beef and Cabbage Meal Ideas
St. Patrick’s day meals using potatoes

3 pounds corned Beef

1 tablespoon pickling spice (The spice pack with the corned beef can also be used.)

3 cups red Irish ale

3 cups beef stock

1½ cups yellow onions, peeled and sliced

1 pound petite red potatoes, cut some of the skin to expose the flesh

3 sprigs fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

1½ cups carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces (baby carrots are great for this)

1½ cups celery, cut into 2-inch pieces

1 head green cabbage, cut into wedges

¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped

½ cup stone ground Irish mustard (or sub your favorite mustard)

Place corned beef in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot. Add the pickling spice and cover the corned beef with the beer and beef stock.

Recipe & Photo by: Potatoes USA

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