The look on a child's face the first time they set eyes on purple or blue mashed potatoes at the dinner table is priceless. We're not talking taters colored with fake food dye. We're talking real, honest-to-goodness old-school potatoes with beautifully-colored flesh.
While you won't likely find these old potato cultivars at your local supermarkets, they are super easy to grow at home and likely readily available at your local farmer's market. (Just be sure to buy organic. Potatoes are often sprayed three times and routinely wind up on the dirtiest produce list.) "Many of the older cultivated varieties might be less uniform in shape than supermarket potatoes, which makes them less attractive for large chains," explains Philip Kauth, tissue culture manager and assistant curator at Seed Savers Exchange, a nonprofit that aims to save vegetables from going extinct. (They also sell seeds.)
So where do these beautiful varieties come from? Many cultivars have actually been bred and selected by researchers with universities, potato companies, or the United States Department of Agriculture, Kauth explains. "Due to a disease epidemic in the 1840s, primitive potato cultivars (like Rough Purple Chili) were brought to the United States from South and Central America around 1850," he says. "These primitive cultivars were crossed with these disease-susceptible cultivars. Instead of heirloom potatoes, many are considered heritage or historic commercial cultivars."
Seed Savers Exchange recommends using fingerling potatoes to roast or use in salads, while opting for large, roundish colorful potatoes for baking and mashing.