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Mouthing Off

This spud's for you: What's a good bacon-and-eggs breakfast without hash browns? The word "hash" means to chop into small pieces (not grate), and although it's time-consuming, hash browns are better when they're hand-hashed (as they are at Sunnyside Up Cafe, reviewed above). Take a large pile of the irregular-sized bits of spud that result from hand-hashing, press them flat on a grill in bacon fat and fry until golden on both sides: The final product includes both big pieces that retain some of their resistance and small pieces that have turned the consistency of mashed potatoes. Add the exterior crunch, a few shakes of Tabasco and ketchup, and good morning to you, too.

Search on the Web for hash browns, and about 11,000 possibilities come up. The one for Mr. Dell's Foods at www.mrdells.com caught my eye because it contains lots of recipes for stuff you can add to the hashed potatoes. My eye stayed there when I discovered that Mr. Dell's, which makes frozen hash browns with no preservatives or additives, uses only Colorado-grown potatoes for its products. A call to the corporate office in Missouri gleaned the information that the company's founder, Dell E. Johnsen, discovered that potatoes grown in our San Luis Valley were the perfect texture for freezing and didn't require additives to survive the process.

"The San Luis Valley has ideal growing conditions," says John Cater, national sales manager for Mr. Dell's. "The beautiful thing is that the potatoes are grown at altitudes of over 6,000 feet, and so you have warm days but cool nights, and the soil is ancient volcanic soil, which feeds the potatoes just right." And not only does Colorado produce the spuds that Mr. Dell's uses, but it's also one of the biggest consumers of the frozen hash browns.

"Colorado has the largest number of ingredient-conscious consumers in the nation," Cater explains. "We've gotten the biggest response from that state because, for some reason, the people living there are very much looking for foods that haven't been highly processed and don't have any additives or other unnecessary ingredients."

Yeah, but how do the potatoes taste? A quick trip to my local Safeway yielded one sixteen-ounce bag of Fancy Shredded Mr. Dell's for $2.29. The price ranges from $1.99 to $2.69 at King Soopers, Cub Foods, Super Kmart and City Market; you can also get Mr. Dell's in Southern Style and Country Dice, as well as in four-pound bags, designed for what Cater calls "strong hash browns users." (You know who you are.) I threw my Fancy spuds into a cast-iron pan with some bacon grease and fried them until they'd formed a golden patty. Even considering the fact that the potatoes had been shredded (which means "grated"), they were pretty good, lacking that mealy texture and wateriness that often characterizes frozen.

Mr. Dell's isn't the only group interested in pure Colorado produce. The Colorado Department of Agriculture hooked up a bunch of Colorado companies with buyers in Japan during a promotional trip to that country last month. CDA international marketing specialist Tim Larsen went along on the mission; he says the demand in Japan for organic produce is particularly high. "I've been working with Japan for the past four years on this," he says. "We've really worked to develop a strong market for organic produce, and we plan to expand into Europe next year."

So far, the only difficulty he's encountered is that the U.S. still doesn't have national standards in place for organics, which isn't a problem for Japan but is for Europe. "They make us jump through hoops because we don't have any standards in place," says Larsen, who works the western portion of the U.S. Agricultural Trade Association. "The big joke at the end of my seminars for the past four years has been that I always say, 'And next year, we'll have national standards for organics.'"

The trade trips give small Colorado organic farmers an opportunity to expand their sales far beyond the local farmer's markets and Wild Oats stores. "What you have is a niche," Larsen explains. "You've got these big wheat producers moving tons of wheat, and how does a small producer compete? This way, we're expanding the market, and states like Colorado are becoming known for their organics."

If you're interested in seeing some of what Colorado has to offer, stop by the annual Colorado Harvest Market on Sunday, August 23, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Larimer Square. Thirty vendors, including cheese, wine, spice and fruit-and-vegetable producers, will be on hand to sell their wares. And the seventh annual Chile Harvest Festival runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday, August 22 and 23, in Civic Center Park. To taste more of what Colorado's restaurants are doing, hit this year's Taste of Colorado, scheduled for September 4 through 7, also at Civic Center Park. More than fifty eateries will participate.

The inn crowd: Back to basics--and breakfast. A group called the Authentic Inns of the Pikes Peak Region has just published Welcome to Our Kitchens, a compendium of recipes from bed-and-breakfasts in the region. The cookbook costs $9.95; order it from Authentic Inns, P.O. Box 6807, Colorado Springs 80934. Or check out the group's Web site at www.bbonline.com/co/pikespeak.

--Wagner

 
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