What We Want: Tom Tower's Potatoes
Farmer Tom Tower of Youngstown, NY
Illustration by JP Thimot
NY-126 has been promoted.
This scurfy-skinned potato has finally earned a real name, and with it a seal of approval from farmers in the Northeast. Now known as the “Lehigh” after the Pennsylvania region where more than 14,000 acres of potatoes were once grown, this fine example of a potato is known locally as the Youngstown Yellow, thanks to farmer Tom Tower who has been growing them for more than a decade.
“I don’t remember names too well,” Tower says, when asked how he came to call NY-126 by the pet name “Youngstown Yellow.” “But we’ve been a fan of this potato for a long time, and our customers really love them.”
Tower’s Youngstown farm first began growing this oddly shaped tuber when the Cornell Cooperative Extension asked him to seed-test it, as they have with other foods in the past. The low-density, moist potato was nearly abandoned by seed testers due to its physical inconsistencies, something most commercial growers reject because their equipment (and, in turn, the equipment of their customers) can’t deal with the lack of uniformity.
Why did Tower continue to grow the Lehigh when others would not? “I am a proponent of flavor. In my eyes, flavor trumps all. Ultimately, I feel it is my responsibility to grow delicious things.”
When asked about his favorite way to enjoy the Lehigh, Tower extols the virtue of simple pan-frying, the method used by one of his best customers—Hutch’s restaurant. “We slice them about a half an inch thick and fry them in oil with salt and pepper,” says Chef Mike Haefner. “We serve them with our veal chop [which is wrapped in prosciutto with sage and fontina]. A lot of things Tom grows can be found on our menu.”
Ideal for sautéing or roasting, the Lehigh also acts as a fabulous vehicle for sauce when boiled.
Below you’ll see that we’ve chosen recipes that highlight this aspect of the potato, two saucy potato “salads” that can be served warm or at room temperature.
No matter what you call it or how you dice it, this golden-fleshed potato will still contain fiber, potassium (more than bananas, believe it or not), and a generous dose of Vitamin C. And, of course, it’s delicious, whether prepared simply, as Chef Haefner does, or using one of our recipes below. Our local version of this potato, the Youngstown Yellow, can be purchased from Tom Tower’s Farm Stand in Youngstown or at his booth at the Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers Market on Saturday mornings.
Potato Salad with Indian Spices
1 lb Youngstown Yellow/Lehigh potatoes, cleaned
¼ cup vegetable oil
½ tbsp cumin seeds
½ tsp turmeric
½ tbsp garam masala
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp fresh ginger, chopped
½ tbsp salt
¼ cup lemon juice
½ cup water (to start)
½ cups peas (thawed if frozen, par blanched if fresh)
½ cup cilantro, chopped
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven. Over medium heat, cook the cumin seeds until the cumin becomes fragrant. Add the turmeric, cayenne, garam masala, ground coriander, and ginger. Stir until the spices and oil blend. Add the salt, lemon juice, and water. Stir. Now add the potatoes. Stir again. Lower the heat, cover the pot, and cook for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are just tender. Add more water, 1/4 cup at a time, if necessary.
Add the peas and cilantro to the pot. Stir well, cover, and cook for another 10 minutes. Just before serving, remove the lid just enough to allow excess liquid to evaporate. Serve warm or at room temperature.
French Potato Salad
1 lb Youngstown Yellow/Lehigh potatoes, cleaned
2 tbsp dry white wine
1 tbsp chicken stock
1 ½ tbsp champagne vinegar
¼ tsp Dijon mustard or grainy country mustard
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp minced scallions
1 tbsp minced fresh dill
1 tbsp minced flat-leaf parsley
1 tbsp fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
Bibb lettuce or arugula, washed and dried
Boil the potatoes whole in salted water until fork tender. (This takes approximately 20 minutes, but results in a tastier potato of better texture than the cube-and-boil method.) Drain in a colander. Place a towel over the potatoes to allow them to steam for 10 more minutes. As soon as they are cool to the touch, cube them in half or quarters, depending on the potato’s size. Place them in a medium bowl and toss them gently with the wine. Allow the liquid to soak into the warm potatoes.
In a separate bowl, combine the vinegar, mustard, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and slowly whisk in the olive oil, creating a simple emulsion. Add the vinaigrette to the potatoes and gently toss. Finish with the scallions, dill, parsley, basil, and lettuce. Toss again, adding more salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Christa Glennie Seychew is the food editor of Spree.