Late last fall, my friend Kathy offered to order some Ozette potatoes through Slow Food Seattle and have them sent to me. She said that she’d bought some Ozette seed potatoes for a friend several years ago at the Northwest Garden Show, that her friend had grown and served them, and that Kathy thought they were delicious. I gladly accepted her generous offer. I’d heard of Ozette potatoes over the years but had never grown them.
In early April this year, a pound box of Ozette seed potatoes arrived from Grand Teton Organics, the farm Slow Food Seattle has been working with “to continue the cultivation of the Makah Ozette seed potato for distribution.”
A few weeks later, I set out twenty seed potatoes a foot apart in two six-inch-deep trenches three feet apart and lightly covered them. Green foliage emerged quickly from the seed potatoes. I hilled the plants several times as they began growing, mulched them, kept them evenly watered, and by mid-summer they were robust plants two feet tall.
In early September the plants began dying back and a few weeks later the potatoes were ready for harvest. I gathered the first few hills of Ozettes into a box and mailed them to Kathy. The remaining Ozettes I’ve harvested and stored. We’ve already eaten some too, and they are as delicious as promised.
A 2013 article by Gerry Warren in Slow Food USA titled A Potato With a Past: The Makah Ozette describes the history of this potato Kathy was sharing with me.
In the 1980’s an unknown fingerling potato was recognized to be a staple in the diet of Pacific Coast Native Americans of the Makah Nation. The Makah occupy the region around Neah Bay, Washington, that is the most northwesterly point in the United States. Tribal lore reported that this potato had been used by these people for about 200 years. The Makah had named this potato the Ozette after one of their five villages located around Neah Bay. This potato has a long history. In 1791, Spaniards expanding their empire from South America brought this potato to Neah Bay, WA. They abandoned their Neah Bay settlement a year later, but the potato remained, becoming an important carbohydrate source for the native Makah people who have continued to cultivate to the present.
The article continues, pointing out that in 2004, the Makah Ozette potato was listed in the Slow Food Ark of Taste and in 2006 a Slow Food presidium that included the Makah Nation was formed to help preserve it. And by 2022, Slow Food was offering seed potatoes for sale.
I didn’t know what to expect in terms of yield from these seed potatoes, but it’s turned out that my experience this year was similar to what Hatchet & Seeds Edible Landscapes in Victoria, B.C. described in a 2020 Instagram post:
We’ve had an amazing yield of Ozette potatoes this year—out of just a handful of plants. They seem to be much more resistant to wire worms than other varieties that were bred directly out of South America and grown along the west coast of North America for many decades, centuries even. They did not go to Europe and back like all commercial varieties. You’d have to think there is some special, climate specific genetic information there!
My yield was also good, with about three pounds of potatoes per hill. And when I pulled a plant to show my friend Denny the abundance of potatoes, she remarked “and no wire worm damage!” Of the twenty hills I harvested, potatoes in only one showed wireworm damage. I haven’t had a lot of trouble with wire worms in potatoes, but still, this possible resistance is another good reason to try this productive potato.
And then there’s taste, the main reason Kathy wanted to share Ozettes with me. So far, I’ve simply roasted these flavorful fingerlings on their own, but as fall turns to winter and winter settles in, I’ll look for other ways to prepare them.
The Slow Food site offers several recipes: pan fried with dipping sauce, hassleback style, with bacon cream and as salads, one a brown butter potato salad and another with mustard and fresh herbs.
Internet searches beyond Slow Food bring up many more ideas, enough that I’ll run out of potatoes before trying them all. And of course, I’m eager to learn how Kathy is preparing hers!