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Spirit of the Spud: Mount Vernon readies for world record potatoes au gratin

Sep 9th, 2011 | Category: Community, Events

by Brent Cole

Imagine 15,000 pounds of sliced red potatoes, 400 pounds of cheese, 200 gallons of cream, 100 pounds of onion, and 50 pounds of garlic – all locally grown and made – being cooked in an attempt to break the the Guinness Book of World Record for Potatoes Au Gratin. It will happen Saturday, Sept. 24 at Mount Vernon Downtown Association’s 5th Annual Fall Fest.

The idea for the record came to organizer Karin Springer – the owner of the Trumpeter Public House restaurant in Mount Vernon – last October. Inspired by the Skagit Valley’s deep rooted history in agriculture, Springer wanted to promote local farmers and potatoes, one of the county’s top crops. (According to the WSU Skagit Extension office, Skagit County farmers grow 11,500 acres of potatoes, including reds, whites, yellows, purple, fingerlings and some chipping potatoes. Currently, 95 percent of the red potatoes grown in the state of Washington are from Skagit County.)

Spirit of the Spud has included several potato-related events over nine months, including a potato sack fashion show, in which participants used potato sacks and other materials to dress up. PHOTO COURTESY OF KARIN SPRINGER

So, on a whim, Springer took the au gratin idea and ran with it. Within the first night of discussing the idea, Springer knew she was on to something. As owner of the Trumpeter, she often tends bar and brought the idea up to one of her regulars. A truck driver, he loved the idea of breaking the record and offered to help move the pan. A gentleman sitting next to him, someone she did not know, offered to use aluminum trailer beds as the pan. “Within like 15 minutes I had transportation and a pan,” she exclaimed. Later that evening, a potato grower came in and offered to supply the main ingredients.

Initially, Springer envisioned 8,000 pounds of potatoes, but that scale was quickly dashed. “When I came I up with this idea last October, it (the world record) was at 6,800. By the time I convinced the Downtown Association and we applied, it was already beaten at 8,800 pounds.”

Organizers also received a letter from the office of the Guinness Book of World Records stating it was one of the most competitive fields. “We didn’t want to put nine, 10, or 11 months into this and then have to grow bigger,” she said. They decided to make the au gratin “as big as we could possibly go without being unreasonable.” So, 16,000 pounds became the goal.

As planning progressed, the community stepped up to donate all the local ingredients.  The Red Potato Growers Association has donated the potatoes. In March 2011, 500 Mount Vernon first grader students planted garlic cloves donated by Joe’s Garden, which were recently harvested and ready for the project. The onions are from local farmers, and the cream and cheese donated by the Dairy Women’s Association. Even the pan – measuring 80 feet by eight foot by eight inches – is being made by Superior Systems out of Mount Vernon. (The pan itself has also been submitted to the Guinness Book of World Records to compete for the largest pan record).

The project has become a true community affair, and it shows “how diverse and fantastic the Skagit Valley is,” Springer said.

On Sept. 24, the ingredients will be mixed together in the pan, which will be heated by 40 crab pots fed by two 1,000-gallon propane tanks. Once the potatoes au gratin is made and certified by the Guinness representative, it will be time to eat. Plates will be offered for a suggested donation of $5 (proceeds going to the Downtown Association). Advance tickets are available at the Downtown Association office or at the Trumpeter Public House.

“I’m pretty calm,” she Springer said about the event date approaching, adding, “I am excited. Everything right now is coming into place. The community support is amazing and the farmers have been amazing!”

In addition to the au gratin, the Fall Fest will feature live music, beer garden, children’s activities, an expanded Farmer’s Market, antique car and truck show, crafts and other food vendors.

For more information, visitspiritofthespud.com or mountvernondowntown.org.

About Spirit of the Spud

Spirit of the Spud is a community project organized by the Mount Vernon Downtown Association highlighting the agriculture and heritage of the Skagit Valley. The nine-month series of potato related events salutes the Red Potato Growers Association, home of “America’s Reddest Reds”, a group of family farms. Events included a potato soup cook-off, Prodigious Potato Statue Display, and potato stencil art.

One Comment to “Spirit of the Spud: Mount Vernon readies for world record potatoes au gratin”

  1. My wife and I are looking forward to this fun event. Way to think big, Mt Vernon!

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