Helen McKerralA butt-ugly vegetable, the Purple Congo potato

What is it with me and vegetables of unfortunate appearance? A while back I shared with you the delicious-tasting but dubious-looking Native Finger lime and now I find myself unearthing Purple Congo potatoes. A bowl of the unwashed long, lumpy tubers looks as if I’ve been cleaning up not after a small dog, but a fully grown Rottweiler. Wow, these potatoes sure are butt-ugly!

Oh dear

Oh dear

A basket of Purple Congo potatoes look like a basket of rottweiller droppings

A basket of Purple Congo potatoes look like a basket of rottweiller droppings

But… of all the varieties (Kipfler, Nicola, Desiree) I planted in various spots around the garden, Purple Congo is the one that keeps on appearing, to the point I have to collect not only the large tubers but also the myriad tiny ones in a futile attempt to leave areas fallow and practise crop rotation (as others have discovered too at Adelaide Gardeners, and ABC Gardening Stories. Instead, up they pop again every year, still disease-free, unlike the white varieties in other areas. So if you do find some and decide to plant them in the garden, choose your location carefully because they will become a permanent fixture!

freshly washed and cut

Purple Congo potatoes freshly washed and cut

Purple Congoes may be ugly on the outside but, when you cut them open, they are the most beautiful rich purple hue. They’re difficult to peel when raw because they’re so knobbly, so do that after cooking, or rub off the skin. They’re also quite dry and floury, and taste horrible roasted, nor do they make great chips, but the little ones are delicious boiled or steamed for a few minutes and served with butter and parsley, or halved and made into potato salad – wash them thoroughly before cooking, no need to peel. And the purple skin and flesh are exceptionally high in antioxidant anthocyanins – great for your health.

Small Purple Congos are delicious lightly steamed

Small Purple Congos are delicious lightly steamed

Potatoes aren’t my favourite vegetable, but I adore pasta so this year made a large batch of gnocchi with 4.5 kg of the largest tubers. The same flouriness that makes Purple Congoes unpleasant when roasted is ideal for light, fluffy gnocchi. Gnocchi apparently freeze well, and purple ones are a novelty! The picture shows one tray left overnight before cooking; the gnocchi turn pale mauve when boiled. All kitchen gardeners who love cooking their produce as much as growing it will know how much fun I had!

Here are some recipes: Island Vittles; ABC Cook and the Chef; Masterchef. I tossed mine with garlic, button mushrooms, walnuts, asparagus and brown butter (tricolor!) sage, plus lemon zest and juice, topped with parmesan and lots of black pepper – yum!

Uncooked Purple Congo gnocchi after drying

Uncooked Purple Congo gnocchi after drying

And this video shows you how to roll them. Mine were vastly less consistent and pretty in shape but meh, whatever, they taste the same! For some reason, whatever recipe I’ve used in the past (with a little egg and flour), my gnocchi are always a bit too soft when boiled straight from fresh: their texture improves when cooked, tossed in a bit of olive oil, cooled, then reheated in the microwave, which will no doubt horrify all good Italian cooks (and if that’s you, I’d love your tips!).

Frozen Purple Congo gnocchi

Frozen Purple Congo gnocchi

The ones I left overnight to dry before cooking were perfect in texture, but the pigments discoloured a little on the underside where the gnocchi rested on the baking paper. Frozen gnocchi are apparently best thrown straight into boiling water and not thawed first, but I haven’t tried that yet, so we’ll see.

It’s always satisfying to discover yummy uses and to extend the harvest of vegies – solutions to the infamous Zucchini Glut, for example. If anyone has ways to store potatoes without a cellar, other than in the ground (mine resprout very soon after dying off in summer), I’d love to hear from you!

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Helen McKerral

About Helen McKerral

Horticultural journalist, photographer, contributor to many garden magazines, and author of 'Gardening on a Shoestring'. Adelaide Hills, South Australia

22 thoughts on “A butt-ugly vegetable, the Purple Congo potato

  1. I love these potatoes but cant seem to find a supplier… can anyone help? I’m based in Perth but would happily travel great distances to get my hands on them again.

  2. I have some PURPLE POTATOES…. I found them in the bush at the site of an old homestead. I started with a dozen or so and have been slowly growing them up to the garden bed I have now of well over 100. Description: very dark purple skin. Some skins are *sandpapery* textured not much but my description. When cut open.. just inside the skin is a lighter purple almost white halo. The flesh of the potato is like a marbled mosaic patterned. The flesh is creamy waxy smooth when boiled and mashed. When baked the flesh is very soft the skin is ‘tough’ (yummy) and chewy. YUMMO… Now do I have purple congo or tolangi delight or a mix of both. The size of the potato is mmm a biggish blood plum or apricot. Maybe if I left them a lot longer could be bigger. I now live at Sale . The original potatoes came from up on the Nicholson River.

    • I am wanting to grow Purple Congo or similar; any idea where I can get any seed stock? I’m in WA

      Thanks Jerry

      • Hi Jerry – as I said to Antony (see his comment above) I have not been able to find a supplier of purple congo in WA. It has existed in WA in past years but there is nobody selling the seed there.

    • You should get your purple potatoes identified if you haven’t already. They could be an old heirloom variety given the site you found them. I’d love to find out.

  3. Hi Jan

    My Purple Congoes are elongated in shape (except the tiny ones, which are prolific and round); they have smooth (not sandpapery) dark purple skin and purple or purple/cream marbled flesh. My pics of Purple Congo aren’t entirely representative: when I chopped dozens more for gnocchi there were certainly plenty with more cream than purple in the cores. Some were mostly cream with a few purple veins. Googling Tolangi Delight (which I’ve never grown), I see that the flesh is cream, which doesn’t sound at all like yours.

    However, I suspect the thing that differentiates purple congoes from other varieties is their *weediness* – they’re so vigorous they’re practically impossible to eradicate once established. It sounds like your spuds are like that if they’re growing wild! So my guess is yes, Purple Congo or some cross with it.

    But hey, if you’re enjoying your spuds and they’re yummy, cherish them regardless of the label!

  4. They are such a meaty potato I find they hold roasting really well. Drizzle of olive oil, pinch of sea salt, sprinkle of rosemary leaves and don’t overcook them and they’re my favourite roasting potato. They hold their own rather than just being the sidekick to other stuff like potatoes can often be.

  5. Hello, I live in Portland Victoria and am keen to get some Purple Congo Potatoes to grow. Is anyone aware of a supplier between Portland and Geelong? Karen

  6. In New Zealand we call these potatoes Kura Tutai Which means Dog Sh** in Maori and are part of a large group of spuds commonly known as PeruPeru or Maori Potatoes, all of which are knobbly and delicious. This particular one is almost invasive where I live in the Far North of NZ. If you miss even the tiniest one when they are dug you will have them forever !

  7. We of the Perth potato community have only just allowed the purple Congo across our borders- the wall is down- and local growers are finally supplying us. What a treat. Try a duo of colors potato gratin, Hawaiian sweet and purple Congo potatoes mash, planked salmon with Purple Congo chips. Anything more to add? Thanks for the post!
    Shady Dave

  8. I visited a Farmer Jacks supermarket in Girrawheen, WA one day and I saw the Congo purple potatoes, I bought some to try and I loved it. I went back the following week, lucky there were a few left so I bought some and planted 3 potatoes. And they are flowering at the moment.

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