Are you ready to experience the fabulous versatility of America’s favorite tuber? The Long Island Potato Festival is happening on Sunday, August 10, at Peconic Bay Winery in Cutchogue, and it’s going to be a hot potato day for young and old alike. Potato chips, French fries, loaded baked potatoes and poutine are just some of the many ways potatoes will be celebrated at the festival. Yum!
Cultivated commercially on Long Island since the 1800s, potatoes used to be the number one crop here. But this will be the first time the potato has been celebrated with a festival.
“Potato harvest season begins in mid to late August, and we wanted to have a way to get ready and celebrate that,” says Pat Esposito, one of the organizers of the event. “It’s going to be a fun day for the whole family.”
Several potato-related contests will take place throughout the day. First, at 11:30 a.m. there will be a mashed potato sculpting contest—an idea that causes cognitive dissonance to those of us who were taught not to play with our food, but which sounds like fun. Then there’s the contest for best potato salad, at 1 p.m., with categories for the home cook and the professional. Bring a bowl of your secret family recipe and see how it measures up. And bring your trusty paring knife or potato peeler for the adults-only potato peeling contest at 2 p.m., where contestants will try to peel the most potatoes (by weight) in 5 minutes. Finally, the Everest event of the day: the mashed potato eating contest at 3 p.m.. Don’t worry too much, parents—the mashed potato eating contest is a speed event, not a quantity event.
“It’s a regular-sized bowl of mashed potatoes,” explains Esposito, to eat as quickly as possible. “Otherwise, it could end poorly.”
Eating a bowl of mashed potatoes as quickly as possible seems like a great idea, but, believe it or not, potatoes were not always such an easy sell. Introduced to Europe from South America in the 1600s, potatoes quickly became a staple food of the Irish peasantry, but were regarded as strictly animal fodder in France and elsewhere. It wasn’t until after the famous French agronomist Antoine-Augustin Parmentier began strenuously advocating potatoes in the late 1700s—succeeding in getting them onto the French royal table and introducing them to such eminent visitors as Benjamin Franklin—that more sophisticated culinary treatments of the potato were developed. So, next time you gobble a handful of pommes frites, take the time to raise a glass to Monsieur Parmentier.
You’ll have plenty of opportunities to raise a glass to whomever you like while sampling potato-based foods at the Long Island Potato Festival. You’ll be able to get delicious craft beers from such local brewers as Long Ireland, Moustache, and Greenport Harbor, and there is also a possibility of a hard cider being available. Food producers and purveyors participating include Island Empanada, Schmitt Farms, North Fork Potato Chips, Pickles Plus, All American Wontons, and many more.
You’ll also have the opportunity to learn a lot about potatoes and how to cook them during the festival. At noon, there will be a talk about the history of potato farming on Long Island. Then, at 1:30 p.m., there will be a program on potato recipes. Finally, you can learn the secrets of making potato chips at 3 p.m.
Meanwhile, the kids will be entertained with making a Mr. Potato Head (using a real potato, naturally!) and taking part in potato sack races. Requiring more skill will be the potato balancing race, where participants will try to win a race while balancing a potato on a spoon.
Esposito is very happy to be giving the potato its due on Long Island. “It’s going to be a great day for the whole family to celebrate Long Island’s agricultural roots,” he notes, “and it should become a tradition!”
Long Island Potato Festival, August 10, 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. Peconic Bay Winery, 31320 Main Road, Cutchogue. lipotatofest.com. Admission is $20, or free for 12 and younger.