Retro Recipes From Colorado’s ‘Potato Paradise’

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Arthur Rothstein/Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress)
A worker inspects washed potatoes in Monte Vista, Colo., October 1939.

Yeah yeah yeah. We know Idaho is synonymous with potatoes. But Southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley is the nation’s second-largest spud-spawning region. According to the area’s potato committee, more than 150 families farm potatoes in the altitudinous soil.

Although they’re not often sold in Divide, Colorado, where she lives, Jane Mannon tries to get her hands on tubers from the valley whenever she can. “Anytime I can get somebody to bring me potatoes from the valley, I do,” she said.

When she secures some San Luis taters it’s an opportunity to dig up a 1986 cookbook that simply screams what it’s all about: “Potatoes!” 

Like other Colorado kitschy-licious community cookbooks, this spiral-bound beauty shines a starchy spotlight on the San Luis Valley’s agricultural bounty. The work of the aforementioned potato committee, the introduction boasts of the region’s “sandy-loam soil and an abundant underground water supply.” Inside, you’ll find “recipes [that] are really a product of that time,” Mannon said, with “cans of cream of mushroom soup and powdered French onion dip mix.”  

Courtesy Jane Mannon
The POTATOES! cook book from Colorado's San Luis Valley.

Although she does admit she’s somewhat mystified by the baked potato recipe — we included it below anyhow.

“I always thought that might be kind of intuitive,” she mused. 

With consistently colder weather inbound, the potato soup recipe entices. You can throw the ingredients in a slow cooker, come back hours later, dump the milk in and enjoy a hearty meal. As Mannon astutely notes, “you can’t go wrong with potatoes and bacon.”

But the potato piece de resistance here is the brownie recipe.

Yes, potato brownies. (Don’t worry. There’s also chocolate.) “I thought the brownies would be a little bit more fudge-like, a little bit more chewy.” Instead, Mannon said, they’re more like cake.

San Luis Valley Potato Soup

4 medium to large potatoes
2 medium onions, chopped
2 slices of bacon, chopped
2 large celery stalks, chopped

2 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. butter
3 cups of milk

Wash, peel and slice potatoes into a large soup kettle. Add onion, bacon, celery and water. Cover and cook until potatoes are tender. Mash vegetables in their liquid and add salt, butter and milk. Heat just to the boiling point, but do not boil. If using a crockpot, do not add milk until just before serving. Heat until soup is hot.

Dark Chocolate Potato Brownies

4 squares unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup margarine
1 2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt

4 eggs
1 cup mashed potatoes
1 cup flour
1/2 cup chopped nuts

Melt chocolate and margarine in a saucepan on top of stove. While this mixture is cooling, cream the sugar, vanilla, salt and eggs together. Add chocolate mixture and mix well. Add the potatoes, flour and nuts. Beat until creamy. Pour into greased and floured 9x11 inch cake pan and bake at 350° about 30 minutes or until the brownies are done. Do not overbake, as they should be chewy. Cool and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Basic Baked Potato

Between 1-4 potato

Top with anything you'd like

Bake up to 4 scrubbed potatoes in a 350° oven for one hour. More potatoes require increased baking time. Instead of wrapping potatoes in foil, try rubbing a small amount of shortening on the skins. Bake on rack in oven, as usual.

Baking potatoes do not have to be long white russets! Try baking the round red varieties — they have a delicious sweeter flavor!

To microwave baked potatoes, follow the directions that came with your particular brand of oven. If you like crisper baked potatoes, microwave up to the last two minutes cooking time and finish baking the potatoes in a regular 350° oven.

For our series “The Kitchen Shelf,” CPR News wants to know about other local Colorado cookbooks and we want your help. Whether your cookbook is collecting dust on a shelf or is a butter-stained countertop workhorse, take a picture of the cover and tweet @cprwarner or email it to [email protected]. We’d love to share more of these family recipes and the stories behind them.