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Life and times of a Russet Burbank

Editor's note: The following first-potato account was transcribed by the interviewer, Herald columnist Marilyn Hagerty. I am a potato. I was planted last spring by Larimore, N.D. Today, I am part of the World's Largest Potato Feed at University Park.

Editor's note: The following first-potato account was transcribed by the interviewer, Herald columnist Marilyn Hagerty.

I am a potato.

I was planted last spring by Larimore, N.D. Today, I am part of the World's Largest Potato Feed at University Park.

Let me tell you about myself. I am a Russet Burbank. That is the best kind of potato for french fries, and we grow well in that lighter soil on the edge of ancient Lake Aggasiz.

I was planted in one of Carl Hoverson's fields. Now that it's harvest time, I am feeling pretty good about all of my potato cousins who will turn into chips or baking potatoes or seed.


I heard Duane Maatz say the crop is pretty good around here this year. He ought to know; he's chairman of the Potato Bowl committee and president of Northern Plains Potato Growers Association. He says all of us french fry potatoes are looking good with an early dig and a nice crop on its way into the J.R. Simplot plant at 3630 Gateway Drive.

The harvest is on for all of us spuds, and they are hauling many of us Russet Burbanks right into the plant. They have been waiting for some cooler temperatures inside the storage houses. Potatoes need a place about 48 degrees for storage.

Seed beginnings

I remember well the day I started out as a seed potato this spring, and they rolled all of us around in a treatment called NuBark. It's sort of like tree bark they use in a healing process to make sure all of us are fit for planting. That wasn't really too bad.

But it was no bed of roses when they tossed us around and ran us through a cutter.

Once we got planted, it was fine. I found it cool and comfortable in that nice soil. I just settled down and didn't worry a bit about the thing the farmers call lenticels that form on potatoes. Those are little white pocks and if they stay open they can be a path way to disease. So, it's good when they flatten down into little black spots. I wasn't nervous because mine all flattened down. I wasn't embarrassed, either.

Summer went by pretty fast, and it was nice at the end of August, with temperatures in the 80s and cool evenings about 60 to 65 degrees. These were some of my happiest days underground.

The only problem was that my brothers and sisters kept getting bigger and bigger, and taking up some of my space. And we knew that if we started poking out of the ground, we would turn green. No self-respecting potato wants to be exposed to sunlight and look green. We know our place, and it's in the ground.


By the time the harvester came through, we were all pretty comfortable, even though we were crowded.

Oh, I'll admit it was kind of a shock to be taken out of our cool, calm environment. Any potato worth its salt knows you have to be keep your composure during harvest. You can't help it, though, if you are breathing heavily after all the aggravation of being scooped out of the ground. It's kind of like you are sweating,

I tried not to fret. I had heard that the farmer would turn some nice cool air on us if they dumped us in a bin. I was OK with that.

Some potatoes are in storage for a while. Then they just rest and keep their sucrose and fructose in balance. But I am one of the potatoes that ended up going directly from the field to the Simplot plant.

Along with many of my brothers and sisters, I have been turned into fries for the big feed tonight.

Making the grade

At the plant, we first were rolled along a conveyer belt. That was really kind of fun. Some of us from each truck load are tested when we arrive at the plant. I guess it's like an SAT test for high school students. They take a sample for grading, and we all hope the test will be on the potato next to us and not us.

When all is said and done, we potatoes end up in one of three categories.


There is the "line flow" grade, which gets about a D if it was in school.

The "skin on conventional" gets a middle grade - maybe a B or C.

Then there's the "extra long fancy." They are the high achievers who would get As if they were kids in school and not potatoes.

So, we know what we are as we roll along the conveyer belts at the plant. I don't like to brag, but I am an "extra-long fancy."

About 80 percent of us go through a steam peeler, and, believe me, then you are a dead potato.

Up until this point, I was living and breathing. But you don't even notice it when you are cut into strips and take a hot bath. You don't know it when you are blanched and all the starch is washed out. You don't mind the boiling oil and the quick freeze. Your only hope is that you will look good in your packaging because all summer you knew you would someday become a french fry.

You just never knew what kind. Basically, there are steak fries, shoestrings and crinkle cuts. But David Gottberg, unit director at Simplot on Gateway Drive, says there are many versions of those basic three cuts. I guess the imagination knows no limit.



Last year during Potato Bowl week, the folks here at Simplot served up 4,680 pounds of french fries. This year, they are shooting for 4,725 pounds. I am excited about the 2007 French Fry Feed this evening.

Some of the other Russet Burbank potatoes I used to know growing up on the fringes of the Red River Valley will be going as fries into schools or to military bases.

We go all over. Forty percent of us will end up at McDonald's. Others are going to Texas Roadhouse, Whataburger and Bojangles, as well as IHOP and Chili's, and places like Bob Evans and Sonic.

All I can say is I am proud to be a Russet Burbank and part of the World's Largest French Fry feed tonight in Grand Forks.

Oh, and if a sliced up and fried potato could talk, I would say, "Go Sioux."

Reach Hagerty at mhagerty@gra.midco.net or 772-1055.

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