The Potato Movement sounds like the dance that Mr. Potatohead might do. But of course if you have had an eye on the media, you’ll know that actually the Potato Movement is the attempt by Greek potato growers and Greek consumers to conduct business without middlemen.
Potato growers in Greece estimate that it costs about €0.15 to grow a kilo of potatoes. Apparently, Athenian supermarkets sell them for €0.80/kg. That might sound like a great profit for the farmers, but in fact, they take a loss, selling their potatoes for around €0.10/kg. Middlemen and the supermarket make the profit.
The region of Greece that is most known for potatoes is the area around the city of Drama. Drama is located in the central part of northern Greece, not far from the Bulgarian border. The potato-growing epicenter is the agricultural land around the town of Nevrokopi, which, incidentally, is only a few miles from S’s father’s village.
Drama has traditionally been the poorest city in Greece, and as an extension of that, the poorest region, despite the fact that the soil is fertile and there are natural resources in the area.
But the potatoes are good, and the farmers know that they’re worth more than the 10 cents per kilo that they were getting, so the movement began to sell them – using the internet in some cases – in large quantities in Athens, direct to the consumer. Each Athenian was allowed to buy 20 kilos of potatoes for €0.25 to €0.30 per kilo, giving the farmer a healthy profit, and a great discount for the consumer.
Although it started out as a small movement, it quickly (in a matter of days) grew to a nation-wide attempt by producers and consumers to bypass the multilayered system of commerce in Greece.
Potatoes were never €0.80/kg up here; I usually pay €0.48/kg for new potatoes at the supermarket, and €0.40/kg when they’re available at the farmers’ market. Regular potatoes are usually around €0.50/kg here. When I buy from the farmers’ market, I buy directly from the producer. In agricultural areas like this one, the farmers at the farmers’ market are local, and the money stays in the local economy.
But in large cities like Athens and Thessaloniki, farmers’ markets are mostly vendors who buy from large central clearinghouses where farmers drop off their produce. So even their farmers’ markets have this ‘middlemen’ aspect.
Since the Potato Movement got under way, other products have entered the mix: olives and olive oil and flour to start, and hopefully more to come.
So what to do with your 20 kilos of potatoes? Here’s a delicious twist on mashed potatoes that is frugal, easy, and a little different from what you might be used to.
Smashed Horseradish Potatoes with Caramelized Onions
First, chop the onions and pop them in the frying pan on medium heat with a few drops of olive oil. Stir them around every 30 seconds or so throughout the cooking process.
Put about 2.5 inches of water in your pressure cooker and start it heating up while you wash the potatoes.
Open the pressure cooker and put the potatoes in; cover and bring up to pressure. Cook until potatoes are tender. In my pressure cooker, that’s about 8 minutes. It will also depend on the size of your potatoes. Don’t be tempted to speed up the process by cubing the potatoes – that tends to make them spongy and waterlogged.
Prepared horseradish is available in Greece as agriorapano / αγριοράπανο. It’s sold at the AB Basilopoulos supermarket chain. I don’t shop there often but when I go, I usually buy a few bottles of horseradish just to stock up. Before I discovered horseradish at AB, I used horseradish powder from Penzey’s Spices – this is actually a great thing to have in your spice cabinet.
When your potatoes are done, cube them in a large bowl and add the butter, salt, and milk.
Mash, but not completely – you want some chunks of potato in there.
Stir in the onions. I’m calling them caramelized onions but I don’t let them caramelize completely because then they’re too sweet. I prefer them still oniony and a little charred, which means I only let them cook about 20 minutes. You can caramelize them completely if you like. That will take around 40 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds.
Add more milk to the potatoes if they’re too dry. Stir in the horseradish.
Serve with lots of coarsely ground fresh pepper.
Smashed Horseradish Potatoes with Caramelized Onions
1 kg potatoes
1 large red onion, chopped roughly
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp prepared horseradish
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp olive oil
freshly ground pepper
1. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan at medium heat. Add the onions. Stir every 30 seconds for the duration of the cooking time.
2. Put 2.5″ water in pressure cooker and start heating.* Wash potatoes and add to the water. Cover and bring up to pressure. Cook until potatoes are tender. Drain.
3. Cube the potatoes in a large bowl. Add the butter and milk; mash roughly with a potato masher or a fork. Add the salt, horseradish, and onions, and mash again. Add more milk if at any point it is too thick to mash.
4. Serve with freshly ground pepper.
*If you don’t have a pressure cooker, just boil the potatoes as you normally would, but you probably want to start them before the onions, depending on their size, so that everything is ready at the same time.