As a kid, I associated each letter of the alphabet with a certain color. A was red, B was blue, C was tan, and so on. (Z, if you must know, was a beautiful, deep forest green.) In my head, when I spelled words out, I could see the colors flying by. My sister's name, Anna, was a blur of red-green-green-red. My mom, Liz, was mostly see-through with a finish of green, and my dad, Jan, was a sort of purple-red-green combo match.
My own name was far more complicated—the letters scribbled out in a long, unwieldy streak. Yellow-white-salmon-blue-yellow-gray-black.
For a while I thought I might be just the slightest bit crazy, but then my sister told me she had an imaginary color-coded alphabet, too. One day, I remember, we got out 52 sheets of paper and wrote out our letters in color for each other to inspect. The colors matched up on roughly half; the others we could not agree on. I have no idea where any of it came from, but X was pea green to my mind, and that was that.
Foods, I used to think, worked the same way. Carrots were orange, tomatoes were red, and blueberries—of course!—were blue. At the grocery store, for the most part, that's still true. But at farmers' markets, it isn't such a sure bet. Enter yellow carrots, green tomatoes, and black radishes. I've seen black raspberries, too, and purple kale and golden beets. The whole Food Is Color Coded theory has really started to fall apart since I started shopping outside. Which leads me to my new friend, the blue potato. Actually, he's really more purple, but we'll let that go.
The Cape Cod blue (or All Blue, as it's technically called) is being grown this year by Ron Backer of Surrey Farms in Brewster. He picked the blues at first because they're colorful and eye-catching and sell like crazy at the markets. Plus they come in around mid-July, in between the early potatoes and the late summer batch, which just so happens to be perfect timing for Ron. But he also decided on them because if he harvests them the right way, he can make them last a month, or maybe even more. He picks them without pulling the plant, by digging his hand into the dirt and feeling around and then—aha!—pinching the purple tubers off. Not every potato variety is amenable to all this reaching-under-its-roots, but the Cape Cod blue seems to tolerate it well. Each week, Ron picks however many pounds of the blue potatoes he thinks he'll sell, and then the next goes back for more. He thinks he has another week or two of this before the gold gives out.
The best part about this picking method is that he can leave the Cape Cod blue plants to self-seed for next year. This saves him the $10 to $15 a pound on seed potatoes, and means that so long as he makes a map of where the crop grew the year before, he can head out in the spring and find a brand new patch of seedlings. Of course, he has to replant them in a new spot in order to avoid pests and diseases (like this year's late blight, which thankfully has yet to hit Ron's farm), but other than that, it's a piece of cake. Transplant, pick, over-winter, and transplant again. Voilá!
All of this easy-pick-and-plant business has given him plenty of time to brainstorm recipes. Like the recipe he came up with for blue potato salad, involving balsamic and peppers and plenty of fresh red onions, sliced.
When I made it I tweaked it a little bit—beefed it up with dill, and mayo, and a little bit of lemon juice—but the basic structure came from Ron. He likes his with a bit of Dijon mustard mixed in, but between the dill and the balsamic I thought we had enough going on. So go ahead—it might not look like your typical potato salad, all russet and cream—but I promise, once you take a bite, you really won't give a hoot.
BLUE POTATO SALAD
In addition to being very, very tasty, blue potatoes are also much richer in anti-oxidants than the plain old white or yellow kind. In my book, that gives you license to make yourself one plate of this salad, and then go back for more.
2 and 1/2 pounds blue potatoes, diced, boiled, and cooled
2 fresh red onions, thinly sliced
2 green peppers, chopped fine
1 bunch dill, chopped fine
1 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade
balsamic vinegar to taste (I used 2 tablespoons)
sugar to taste (I used 1 teaspoon)
salt and pepper to taste
a squirt of lemon juice
Pull the cool potatoes out from the fridge and dump them into a large mixing bowl. Add the red onions, the green peppers, and the dill. Measure out the mayonnaise in a large measuring cup and whisk in the balsamic, sugar, salt and pepper, and lemon juice until you have a dressing you like. Pour this dressing over the vegetables and toss well. Serve chilled or at room temperature.