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In This Place
The Local Food Report
As we re-imagine our relationships to what we eat, Local Food Report creator Elspeth Hay takes us to the heart of the local food movement to talk with growers, harvesters, processors, cooks, policy makers and visionaries

How Many Truly Blue Foods Are There? Blue Potatoes Are Growing Locally, and Here's How to Use Them

Blue is the color of my summer. It is expansive like the sea and the sky. Royal like a queen. It is round like a blueberry, ocean-salty like blue fish. Blue is also the color of the free lollipop I take from the bank. Blue is Blue Moon ice cream and popsicles from my childhood. Their flavor was (I don’t know)… it was just blue.

When you think about it, there aren’t a whole lot of naturally occurring blue foods or vegetables. But there are a few that are pretty astonishing. Consider blue potatoes.

I met up with 92 year-old Bob Daniels, also known as The Potato Man, who grows all kinds of potatoes. He’s a regular at the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market, and though he didn’t feel like talking to me on tape, Lynne Daniels, his daughter, was at the market, and she told me about the blues they grow on their farm in Edgartown.

“We’ve got three different blue potatoes this year,” Daniels said. “One is a Blue Gold, so it’s a blue-skinned potato, and the center inside is gold like a Yukon gold—so it’s called a Blue Gold. And then we have Peruvian Blue, which is more blue. And then we have a purple one.”

Lynne was referring to the Russian Blue variety. It’s almost a deep purple inside. The Daniels family has been growing blues for about a dozen years in a sandy soil that’s mixed with compost.

Naturally occurring blue foods are higher in antioxidents, which are known to be beneficial to our health in all kinds of ways.

“I know that in the Andes, down in Machu Picchu, they have over two hundred different kinds of blue potatoes,” Daniels told me.

I cooked with blue potatoes a long time ago. I remember it well. I roasted them alongside a chicken. But I didn’t anticipate how determined a true blue would be in holding onto its color. The potatoes were delicious in the chicken drippings with onions and garlic, thyme and lemon, but the color was just off-putting enough that I haven’t tried them since, because they turned the chicken juices a kind of gray. I actually thought something was wrong with my iron skillet. Basically, blue potatoes had me freaked out.

“Some turn their noses up,” Daniels said, of people’s reaction to blue potatoes. “You can usually tell someone who hasn’t tried a potato like the blues, because they buy the purple skin with the white inside. They figure they’re just going to peel it, nobody else is going to know, their family. It’s kind of a weird reaction. Anybody that’s adventuresome will try them.”

Lynne Daniels likes them best mashed with garlic and butter. She calls them ‘Dirty Blues,’ because she leaves the skins on. For family gatherings and barbeques she’ll make a mess of red, white and blue potato salad, adding a little vinegar to the cooking water in order to hold the potatoes’ color.

“I usually do about four pounds of potatoes,” Daniels explained. “Mixed colors—chunk them up, leave the skins on, and put a little vinegar in the water. Cover your potatoes with water, put in a teaspoon or tablespoon of vinegar, and cook them till they’re done. And then dump them and rinse them. I use probably six hard boiled eggs. I always throw  them in with the potatoes when I cook the potatoes, so I don’t have a second pan. Just chop that up, with a little mayonnaise, celery, salt and pepper and that’s it. Voila!”

Cooking with blue potatoes is like playing with paint. It’s fun. They’re unexpected and tasty. You can try them now fresh off the farm, then buy a bunch and store them in a cool, dark place like you would any other potato. And then come this fall, just when you need a little something special, cook up the color of this last summer.