Spud Fest celebrates potatoes this weekend

August 25, 2010|by TIFFANY ARNOLD
  • Sweet potato fries, top, and kettle crab chips, bottom, from Hempen Hill BBQ & Grill, north of Hagerstown.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer,

SHARPSBURG -- Preparations for the eighth annual Spud Fest are under way, giving us cause to revisit our favorite fried finger foods -- french fries and potato chips.

An homage to historic agriculture, Spud Fest is a free event held at the Rural Heritage Museum south of Hagerstown.

A horse-drawn plow will harvest spuds planted on the museum grounds. Volunteers then will fry up chips and serve them to attendees.

This year's Spud Fest is Saturday, Aug. 28.

Making your own potato chips isn't much different from making your own fries.

Although they won't be at Spud Fest, we asked the folks at Hempen Hill BBQ Bar & Catering north of Hagerstown for some tips on DIY chips and fries. (See the recipe on page A16).

The restaurant has received national buzz for its burger and has fry fans among local diners.

They shared their recipe for shoestring sweet potato fries and offered tips for sprucing up homemade chips - Hempen serves homemade chips topped with a creamy crab dip.


The trick to good fries and chips?

"Good, hot oil," said Kathy Reeder, who owns Hempen with her husband, Jay Reeder.

You also want your potatoes to be well-rinsed and dried.

Museum volunteer Mary Poffenberger said a few potatoes harvested at the rural heritage museum have already been washed and left to dry at room temperature. A modern-day slicer will shave them down to slender chip-size discs on Spud Fest day. Volunteers will then fry the slim slices in a vat of lard heated to 400 degrees.

But before they hit the fryer, the potatoes will have to be rinsed several times to remove clinging layers of starch.

Poffenberger said volunteers have learned that if you skip the rinsing step, you'll get soggy chips.

Also, the chips must be kept thin. "You can hold it up and see through it," Poffenberger said.

A too thick chip will end up too soft.

"It will soak up all the grease," she said.

Lynn Little family and consumer sciences educator with the Washington County office of the University of Maryland Extension, offered fry-making tips for health-conscious fries.

She recommended baked fries instead of "fried fries," easing up on the condiments. Instead, opt for vinegar, Old Bay or the things you'd put on a baked potato.

"You have to be careful not to load them up with cheese and salt," Little said.

If you must fry, consider using a an oil free of trans-fats.

It helps to know something about the oil's burn point, which is the reason why olive oil would not work for a deep fryer.

Potato season runs late August through September, with new potatoes ready in July through mid-August. Gardeners said it wasn't a bad year for potatoes, but it could have been better.

"The heat was a little hard on everything," said Annette Ipsan, Master Gardener coordinator for the Washington County office of the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension.

Ipsan said vines dried up earlier, causing smaller yields and smaller potatoes, but it was business as usual for the people who were able to keep their potatoes well-watered.

For the first time ever, Spud Fest will offer a menu of homemade potato dishes, said museum volunteer Mary Poffenberger.

"Baked potatoes, potato salad, potato candy, potato pie," Poffenberger said.

The menu will also include french fries, Poffenberger said, but the fries won't be homemade.

She said they're still working out the kinks and plan to make fries from scratch for future Spud Fests.

If you go ...

WHAT: 8th annual Spud Fest

WHERE: Rural Heritage Museum, at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center, at 7313 Sharpsburg Pike, seven miles south of Hagerstown

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 28

COST: Free admission, donations accepted

MORE: Call 240-420-1714 or visit .

Sweet potato fries

1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon of habanero powder, more or less to taste
1 large sweet potato, cut into french fry-size slices
Canola oil

Heat canola oil to 350 degrees in a deep fryer. Immerse the sweet potatoes, allowing to cook for 8 to 10 minutes.

Mix together the spices. Once the sweet potatoes have cooked, remove them and drain the oil. Sprinkle a dusting of the spices over the fries.

Serve warm.

-- Recipe prepared by Joe Downey, day chef at Hempen Hill BBQ Bar & Catering, north of Hagerstown

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