What's In Season at the Farmers Market: Makah Ozette Potato
Alex Weiser's potato varieties form a mounded rainbow of surprisingly vivid colors, ranging from a nearly black Purple Peruvian to red-fleshed Chilean tubers to pale fingerlings. So you'd be forgiven for passing up on the Ozette (a.k.a. Makah Ozette), but only once. It is one of Weiser's, and the potato world's, more singular varieties as well as one of the most humble looking. The Ozette grows no larger than a few inches -- Weiser harvests them while they are small and tender -- and have a non-descript yellowish skin, symmetrically dotted with deep-set eyes.
Felicia Friesema Makah Ozette potato at Weiser Family Farms
The Ozette's beauty comes from its story of origin and its flavor. It tastes like pinto beans and hazelnuts, slightly sweet and nutty with a tender, starchy flesh that is forgiving to the forgetful cook (a pot left boiling well after doneness yielded soft but not mushy potatoes). As good as it tastes, its story is even better.
Spanish traders began exploring the Pacific Northwest coastline in the 1700s, swapping South American potatoes and smallpox for pelts, whale blubber and bones. The Makah Nation on the Olympic peninsula was particularly hard hit by lethal European diseases, so it's a wonder they managed to keep cultivating one of the reminders of that fateful contact. But they did, and it turns out that the distinctive Peruvian import was passed down from generation to generation within the confines of the Makah Reservation.
The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity identified the Makah Ozette as a traditional and endangered food product that could potentially have an economic impact and be saved from extinction. A partnership between the Slow Food Seattle chapter, the Makah Nation, the Seattle chapter for Chefs Collaborative, several farmers, and a laboratory that produces potato seed for the USDA formed in 2006 to increase the production and promotion of the Ozette. That's how it came to Weiser Family Farms -- and thus to Los Angeles dinner tables.
This is the second year that Weiser has had the Ozette and it's doing very well. He upped production this season and expects to have the Ozette on the tables for another few weeks.