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County residents, growers express love for new potatoes

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — There are few things that Mainers look forward to more than summer, that short time when the sun shines for several months in a row, the water is warm, and camps around the state open up for visitors.

And in early July, as residents and visitors on the coast are indulging in lobster, clams and other delicacies caught from the Atlantic Ocean, there is another food that is just as eagerly sought out in Aroostook County — new potatoes.

“When my sister, who grew up with me in Presque Isle, comes back to visit me in the summer with her husband, that is the first thing that they ask for,” Sheila Cyr of Presque Isle said Friday. “She lives in California now and we both picked potatoes when we were young. We loved it when our mother would make new potatoes with peas and cream. Now, we just like them boiled with butter and salt and pepper.”

New potatoes are customarily available from mid-July into October, according to the Maine Potato Board. Tristan Noyes, who owns Gromaine LLC, a Woodland based organic farm with his brother Jon. Jon oversees the farming side of the business in Woodland while Tristan, who lives in South Portland, markets the crops to people and businesses from Maine to Boston. Tristan said Friday that he understands both the love for the food and the nostalgia behind it.

“I can’t tell you how many pounds of new potatoes we sell, but we have ten varieties that we dig and sell,” he said Friday. “They are very popular.”

Some of those varieties include dark red norlands, yukon gold and yukon gem. Noyes said that he believes that some of the appeal of  new potatoes comes from the fact that they are dug straight from the ground without killing the top.

“That means they have really tender skin, its flaky, but they are smaller than a typical potato,” he added. “I am from The County and the potato has always played such a huge role in our lifestyle here. When you see people start digging for new potatoes and new peas, it brings back a bit of nostalgia, because you know it is getting close to potato harvest.  I mean, new potatoes, cream and new peas is literally my favorite meal.”

Kristie McPherson of Houlton agrees.

“When I was in elementary school, my mother got into this phase where she liked to move around a lot,” she recalled. “We rented a new apartment each year there for awhile. But one year we rented a place a short distance from a potato stand.”

McPherson said that her mother let her buy some new potatoes from the farm stand, and she recalled being “amazed” that you were able to just leave your money there and take the potatoes.

“Our apartment had this stove with only one working burner, and my mother boiled those potatoes on that one burner stove and my whole family ate them,” she said, laughing. “So every time I eat them know, I think of my mom and that apartment, cooking on that one burner stove.”

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