Eat This, Feed Me, Tune In, What's Happening

Celebrating the New Year with a Giant Potato

No need for me and my fellow Idahoans to sit at home and watch the New Yorkers having all the fun… now Boise has a locally grown New Year’s Eve tradition: an evening of magic shows, live music, street food, and general merrymaking, capped off by dropping a giant styrofoam potato off a tall building.

This is the kind of local tradition a community can rally around. Free, appealing to all ages, and wacky enough to capture the imagination, it generates a certain excitement and pride.

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Readying the stage at the base of Boise’s 19-story US Bank Plaza high-rise, from which the potato will be lowered at 11:59pm.

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Winged potato logo banners hung around the outdoor viewing area capture the freewheeling spirit of this event.

The potato (Solanum tuberosum), which has been grown in Idaho since 1837, has played a key role in the state’s history, economy, and cuisine. Idaho business maven J.R. Simplot oversaw development of the first frozen potato processing and delivery method, and created an entire industry around frozen French fries for restaurants and for home baking. The iconic Idaho Spud Bars, candy bars which contain no potato whatsoever, were created by a local candy maker in 1918 and are still being sold today. 2013 Idaho State Fair offerings included an oblong of chocolate-coated ice cream with whipped cream inside, to simulate a fully loaded baked potato. Many a license plate in our fair state sports the “Famous Potatoes” slogan.

Potatoes hail from the Andes Mountains, and they adapt well to Idaho’s climate and altitude. The combination of hot days, cool nights, and mineral-rich volcanic soil produce a starchy, firm-fleshed tuber (provided the plants get consistent moisture through irrigation) that lends itself to easier peeling and mashing. The most commonly grown Idaho potato is the Russet Burbank; its “netted” surface isn’t as aesthetically appealing as the smooth skin of other varieties, but brings increased resistance to scab and other diseases.

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This fake potato is clearly a Russet Burbank, as you can see from the realistic “netted” surface.

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When you see a truck carrying a giant potato down the street, you must chase it!

As the evening of December 31 progressed, a crowd gathered in The Grove, a pedestrian-only open-air paved square in the center of downtown Boise. Bands played. Dancers brandished fiery torches. Nearby restaurants and bars filled to capacity with people eating, drinking, laughing, and wearing those silly hats.

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Festive lights and tents decorate The Grove for Boise’s first Idaho Potato Drop on December 31, 2013.

Near midnight, thousands of people streamed into the open spaces and turned their gazes skyward for the grand finale. The giant potato was lowered by crane from the top of the US Bank Plaza with flashing lights, cheers, and tooting of horns.

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The glowing giant vegetable was lowered by crane as the crowd cheered. [Photo by John Bernasconi.]

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Later, some of the crowd came to get a closer look at the famous tuber. [Photo by John Bernasconi.]

And thus a tradition is born. (For the full sensory experience, watch the video.)

Years from now, you may be cheering as your own locally appropriate giant vegetable drops from your town’s tallest building.

Happy New Year to all! May your gardens thrive, or at least bring you joy.

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Photography note: Photographer John Bernasconi seeks meaningful connections with his subjects whether he’s shooting portraits or landscapes, but he has never before connected with a giant potato.

Posted by on January 1, 2014 at 4:42 am, in the category Eat This, Feed Me, Tune In, What's Happening.
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11 Responses to “Celebrating the New Year with a Giant Potato”

  1. Susan says:

    Wait a minute – you guys don’t grow potatoes big enough so that you can drop a real one?? Well, that’s disappointing. Happy New Year anyway, Evelyn!

  2. Garden Rant Garden Rant says:

    I see bumper sticker potential here: Keep Boise Wacky!
    Susan

    • When visiting Austin, TX, I LOVED seeing all the Keep Austin Weird paraphernalia. That would be awesome to live in a town that celebrated quirkiness. (And perhaps I do!)

  3. Gail says:

    Happy new Year Evelyn! Loved the potato drop and hope it becomes a wonderful Boise tradition.

  4. julie bw says:

    So I guess New York should be lowering a big apple, probably not going to happen.

  5. Susan says:

    Julie, New York can’t drop a big enough apple. We’re number 2 in the US when it comes to apples – Washington State is number 1. If anybody’s going to drop a big apple, it’s them. I can think of some other objects that NYC could drop at midnight, but this is a respectable site.

  6. I don’t know that you’d have to be #1 in something to drop it — look at the variety of things different communities are dropping: http://www.nationaljournal.com/budget/here-are-the-craziest-things-america-will-drop-on-new-year-s-eve-20131231

    I mean, is Tallapoosa, Georgia, really #1 in opossums?

  7. commonweeder says:

    Happy new year! What a great idea! There is a (fairly) local First Night event that sounds similar to your celebration. Lots of stuff early for the young set. Great fun.

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