Local Organic Sustainable

"No part of the world is better fitted by nature for growing potatoes
than the mountain districts of Colorado."

Call to all potato growers in the Roaring Fork Valley! We are on a mission.
and it is moving forward folks!!
We have found our potato patrimony and it is the Red McClure.

 

The Return of the Red McClure
Writer: David Frey
Byline: Aspen Daily News Correspondent


The Roaring Fork and Crystal River Valley section of Colorado is as nearly perfect in soil conditions as can be found, and the potatoes grown there are not excelled anywhere in the world, and are equaled in but few places.

E.H. Grubb & W.S. Guilford, The Potato, 1912 CARBONDALE Long before National Geographic Adventure magazine dubbed this a "next great adventure town", Carbondale was a great potato town, but as the potato fields vanished, so did a potato variety that was born here. But take heart, foodies. The Red McClure is coming home

The Red McClure has Irish immigrant Thomas McClure to thank for its name, and its existence. The man, for whom nearby McClure Pass was also named, defied his father by leaving Ireland for America to join the Gold Rush. He came to Gilpin County, then Leadville, then Aspen, before taking up farming in the Catherine Store area east of Carbondale, where, like many of his neighbors, he raised potatoes.

One of the popular potatoes here was the Peachblow, and McClure's variety was a natural mutation of it: fist-sized, ruddy red, with deep eyes. He introduced the new variety in 1910, and it became one of several varieties grown around Carbondale, which at one time produced more potatoes than all of Idaho. In the 1930s, before labor shortages and plunging prices killed the town's potato industry, Carbondale was shipping 400 railcars of potatoes out of town. Potato magnate Eugene Grubb called Carbondale home. The Russet-Burbank potato that put Idaho on the map was first developed on the Lou Sweet ranch above town. 'Virtually, it's disappeared' The Red McClure became a favorite across the Divide in the massive potato fields of the San Luis Valley. Over the decades, though, it disappeared there, too, replaced by new varieties.

By 1947, the American Potato Journal documented only five counties in the country raising Red McClures. They were all in the San Luis Valley. Now, those are gone, too. 'This is Slow Food's mission: to bring back crops that deserve an audience,' said Tom Passavant, co-president of Slow Food Roaring Fork.Finding the potato was a challenge. A Fort Collins lab offered to produce it in a test tube, but Ryan demurred. Test tube potatoes just aren't Slow Food style. Finally, she found them alive and well, and in the open air, in the San Luis Valley. 'Virtually it's disappeared,' said Dave Holm, horticulture professor at Colorado State University's San Luis Valley Research Center, where just one-tenth of an acre of Red McClures remain in cultivation. 'I don't know, right off, anywhere else in the United States you could go to find it.' A few San Luis Valley old-timers still grow them, Holm said, and some say they prefer the flavor to newer varieties, but the Red McClure has disappeared from seed catalogs. Thirty years ago it was the most popular red potato in the area, Holm said, but it?s been displaced by newer types like the Sangre, which is redder and has shallower eyes and fewer blemishes. Good to great When Slow Food Roaring Fork members sat down to sample the Red McClure, their ratings ranged from good to great, Passavant said. 'We would never pretend it's a gourmet potato,' he said. 'This isn't going to put French fingerlings out of business. But at Slow Food we believe in preserving species by eating them. We think this is a good, solid, working-class potato that deserves to be grown again in the valley, and our mission is to see if we can establish this crop on a commercially viable basis. 'Commercial growers like Palisade's Rancho Durazno, Delta's Borden Farms and Silt's Osage Gardens plan to grow the potato. So do sustainable agriculture groups like Rock Bottom Ranch and Sustainable Settings. The Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork, just a potato toss away from McClure's old farm, plans to grow it in its garden.

So do Aspen Elementary School and Carbondale's Colorado Rocky Mountain School, which will offer the potatoes for sale to the public at its annual spring plant sale. 'We certainly don't want to see things die away,' said Osage Gardens owner Sarah Rumery. 'We'd like to help support it.' Passavant said he'd like to see the Red McClure end up back not just in area gardens and farms, but on valley restaurant menus, bringing Carbondale's native potato back to its roots, sharing dinner plates with local beef. 'Meat and potatoes,' he said. 'How can you beat it' dfrey@aspendailynews.com '

Related Reading

Edible Aspen Magazine- a guide to local foods from the Roaring Fork Valley. www.edibleaspen.com

Edible Aspen is a quarterly publication that promotes the abundance of local foods in the Roaring Fork Valley and it's neighboring communities. We inspire readers to celebrate the farmers, ranchers, winemakers, food artisans, chefs, bakers and other food related businesses for their dedication to using the highest quality, local, seasonal foods.

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