How-To :: Make the Perfect Baked Potato and Visiting Idaho Potato Producers
12 bloggers, one state, 2 chefs, lots of cameras and one famous tuber – This is our story, The Real World :: Bloggers do Idaho. Wait. Well, you get the point. It’s been a couple of weeks of me really trying to formulate what I could tell you about my trip to Idaho, besides ALL. Of. It. Because there is so much for me to say that I could write a saga that would rival the Illiad on the subject. Do you want to talk Idaho itself, and how I am absolutely enamored with how stunning the state is? Or do you want to chat taters, and how versatile they are, and the people that grow them spend their whole lives devoted to their land and how their commitment to growing the tuber that we take for granted is their life’s mission? I’ll try and find a happy medium, because I have to tell it all to you!
It’s been a busy couple of weeks, but this was something that I knew you had to hear when it meant that I could accurately and effectively communicate what this trip meant to me. I feel very fortunate to be married to a man that was raised on the land his family tilled, toiled, sweated and worried over. I consider myself also very fortunate to see the hard work and the lifelong connection that one person can have to a plot of land, that isn’t just dirt, but a way of life and a calling in his family. And so when I traveled to Idaho to learn about the famous Idaho Potato, I got to see that same enigma happen again, albeit in a different part of the country and with a different crop. That one connection to the land remains the same no matter where you are.
The first night of our adventure took us to the Hoff family farm outside of Idaho Falls where we got to learn firsthand about this fourth generation potato farmer who’s family started out with a plot of land in the Idaho Falls area in the late 1800’s. Four generations later the Hoff family is still working the same pieces of land, expanding and relishing the experience year in and year out. Over dinner we got to chat with the family and learn about their history, how they began and that the last three generations of the family all fly their own planes!! Even James’ 16 year old daughter is learning to fly from the same instructor that taught him and his mom! Now that’s a family tradition. Ben would have been jealous of all of those vintage planes in the hanger. I sent him photos, just to be nice…
Something that I think gets lost in translation, and with our growing disconnection from the land, is that there are real people and real families working to provide food for all of our tables. Every morning and into the late nights these men, women and children are out there diligently watching over their land, to grow and produce safe, sustainable and delicious food for all of us to eat. They use the best science and technology has to offer to make sure they are keeping the land viable, so that it will keep producing healthy crops for years to come. I mean, does your car have a GPS system in it? Their combines do! Measuring to within an inch all based on GPS, a farmer can find out exactly where he has put down his last row of seed or where to place his fertilizer. Fertilizers, made of basic elements like nitrogen – that is what plants need to survive – are astronomically expensive, so farmers don’t want to use any more than is absolutely necessary. It’s such an exact science that these men and women go to college to make sure they can come home with a knowledge and skill set that will help them through their lifetime. They’re leaders in their field! Get it, field?
And in the winter time, it’s no time to rest – they’re busy fixing equipment, learning new computer systems and advancing their knowledge so they can be ready to make the next growing season better than the one before. It’s something to be truly admired.
The next morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed we got to go dig our own potatoes and see harvest in full swing. During potato harvest the schools shut down and the kids are let out to go help their families in the fields, driving truck, sorting, and storing. The poor girl heading up sorting was monumentally confused as to why 12 bloggers were taking seemingly random photos of potatoes on a conveyor belt going into the storage sheds for the winter. Even after explaining who we were and why we were there, I think she still thought we were totally weird, but she was happy to keep working as I snapped a few photos of her picking roots out of the sorter. She was such a champ.
That afternoon we got to visit processors, and even have a meal prepared by the chefs of Charlie Baggs Institute from Chicago! I’m still trying to decide which of their creations was my favorite. The woodsman hash was right on up there!
Our last night we adventured to Driggs, Idaho in the foot of the Grand Tetons for a little relaxation and well, more food. And you know how much I adore the Grand Tetons. We’re really good at this food eating thing… It was well earned after a little horse ride into the hills that over looked the entire valley. With aspens full of changing leaves, a crisp bite to the air and really good furry four legged company it was a great way to spend out last day in Idaho. Unlike my last trail ride in Idaho, I came back unscathed… In the morning we woke up to a dusting of snow that was pure, frosty heaven! I just wanted to sit in the cabin next to the fire all snoodled up and cozy. But it was time to go home.
I learned so much about farming, Idaho, the producers and the land – I am so thankful that I got to experience it all again. I’m so lucky to have Ben who has been willing to teach me just a little of what he knows about farming, but seeing it all put to use all over Idaho and the depths of the love and passion these growers have in their land and in their harvest makes me so thankful.
And do you want to know what else I learned when I was in Idaho? How to make the PERFECT Potato blossom!! You know what one I’m talking about – the perfectly fluffy, just-how-they-make-it-on-commercial fluffy baked potato! Well, here it is! I had a forehead slap “No, Doiii!” moment here. James Hoff – the potato farmer I mentioned earlier wowed us all with his food styling skills – so now you get to learn the secret, too! Try it at home tonight, because a baked potato is good well, all the time.
Russet Burbank potatoes are perfect for this because of their thick skin, so pick up a couple tonight. Bake your potato – don’t wrap in foil, that will steam it – until it is fork tender in a 400 degree oven. Once it cools to a point you won’t fry your hands, hold it between our fingers and gently massage your potato trying not to break the skin of the potato.
Next, use a fork to poke a line of zig-zag across the top of the entire potato.
Then squeezing gently from the bottom, the potato will burst out of the seams at the top.
Plate and then top to high heaven with your favorite fixins!! How did we all survive this long without this knowledge? I know!
So go pick up a couple of potatoes tonight, try this out and thank your potato farmer with hearty Mmmm’s all around.
How to Bake the Perfect Potato
Yield: 1 Potato
Prep Time: 5 Minutes
Cook Time: 1 Hour
Total Time: 1 Hour
Russet Potatoes - all of similar size
Non-stick vegetable oil spray
Baked Potato Fixins:
Fried and Chopped Bacon
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub the potatoes under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Lightly spray potatoes with vegetable oil spray. Use a fork a puncture the top of the potato once or twice so steam will be able to escape while baking. Place onto oven rack and bake until fork tender in the middle - 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the potato. Remove gently from oven and allow to cool slightly.
To Fluff Potatoes:
Use a fork and make zig-zagged punctures into the top of the potato across the top. Using a towel and both hands, gently "massage" the potato to loosen the insides of the potato - without breaking the skin. Then from the bottom up, squeeze the potato so the insides come out of the punctured seams. Top with favorite fixins and serve immediately.
*Fine Print* The Idaho Potato Commission sponsored my trip to Idaho Falls. All opinions are my own.