I got to thinking the other day about the virtues of a potato.

It is such a beautiful thing, especially cooked and hot and nutritious and tasty.

And cheap. I buy a five-pound bag for $2.99 from the local grocery store and figure the 13 good-sized potatoes inside cost me about 23 cents each.

Where can you find such a bargain, especially now, when food prices are through the roof and you can walk away from the store with two bags of groceries for $100?

I have always loved a potato — baked, fried, mashed, boiled, scalloped or made into potato pancakes or Needham chocolates. I even eat the skins of a baked potato, said to be the best part.

When we were kids, we learned to halve our baked potato, scoop out the innards and drop a little pad of butter into each cup of skin. There was nothing like the moist, buttery, crunchy taste of a potato skin to complement the buttered, salted and peppered potato itself.

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We always had potatoes in our vegetable garden when I was a child and we liked to eat some vegetables raw, right out of the garden, potatoes included.

I grow them in my small gardens today and relish the harvest, always regarding digging for potatoes as searching for treasure. Unearthing those gorgeous red or brown orbs is pure fun, especially with the promise that they will grace my table and delight my palate later that evening.

When I was in college, I had a food science and nutrition professor who told us that a potato is the most complete form of nutrition one can consume. Others may argue that point, but I agree with him. By the way, he was in his 80s and looked like he was 60. Eating good food can do that to you.

My father used to tell the story of growing up in rural Durham where an old man lived nearby whose sole diet was potatoes and he used only a knife to cut and eat them. He never used a fork, according to my father.

Dad was a great gardener himself and made sure we had fresh carrots, onions, corn, tomatoes, beets and potatoes every year at our home in Skowhegan. One of my most poignant memories is of my father digging potatoes from the garden, dropping them into an aluminum pan with holes in the bottom, rinsing them off and sitting down to peel them. He quickly sliced around each one using a jackknife or paring knife, cutting away too much of the actual potato.

I decided he was entirely reckless in his enthusiasm for peeling a potato after watching my friend Julie from down the street carefully shave the peel off potatoes using a more modern implement. She was tasked with preparing a pot of potatoes for supper every night and having it ready when her parents got home from work.

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Julie’s family had come down to Maine from Quebec and she called potatoes “patates,” a word that often comes to mind when I do potato prep — all because of the memory of Julie and her meticulous potato peeling.

As a new college freshman in Connecticut in 1970, I was waiting in line to enter the cafeteria one day and got to talking with the student behind me about where we were from. I told him Maine; said he was from Idaho.

“We have something in common,” he said. “Potatoes.”

We also had something else in common: we both hailed from beautiful states, as I learned several years later when I traveled through his.

But though Idaho potatoes are OK, I believe ours are best and I always buy only Maine potatoes myself.

I’m guilty, occasionally, of eating poorly for two or three days if I’m very busy or just too lazy to cook. By the third day when I feel depleted and out of kilter, I vow to smarten up.

All it takes is a boiled and buttered Maine potato to make me right again.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 34 years. Her columns appear here weekly. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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