Pabulum Protagonist | Potatoes with Poppy Seeds

Allison Mills Neal and Eastenn Dutch Neal

Come on out to the country.Allison Mills Neal


If I was a character in a dystopian novel, I would pack my spade and run down Highway 7 to Leipers Creek Road. The protagonist lives there and she will take me in. We are acquainted having conversed about soil samples and forgotten seeds.

She is wily and stubborn in the utter sense of not giving up on anything. Her countenance speaks of wood nymph. Born at ease and in harmony with the natural cycle of things, her thirty seven years have insured a counter to this revved up world. She chooses to live simply, grow food and educate those who are open to ancient ideals like deep breathing and listening.

My fascination with Allison Mills Neal began in 2007 when she and her husband Matthew set up a vendor booth at the Franklin, Tennessee Farmers Market. This was pre-marketing era for the small southern farmer. Most were grateful to have gotten their goods harvested in time to transport and set up a fly by night situation from which to sell. Not much thought given to presentation and such in those days.

That is why the heavens parted over the Arugula Star Farm’s veggie booth decorated with elegant simplicity to the point of tears. Likely the stork dropped Allie into her parents’ East Tennessee farm from a past life where she collected information on how to proceed with intention and beauty.

A degree from Belmont in biology and chemistry and a variety of courses in environmental sciences from East Tennessee State University have enabled her to develop an array of farming episodes which in turn have engaged a public premeditated about their food choices.

An earlier quest as a personal chef led to the development of Arugula Star CSA which led to rare variety commercial sales, which led to a CSA specialization of her own design. And from a personal farm internship experience, I can vouch for the ever present teacher inside the girl ready to support farm techniques that have been thrown out with the bath water.

Allison recently birthed a new venture involving her great passion for storage crops. She finds that a winter mother load can be perfected with particular companion plants and an audience. So she is ready to share things that she knows and invites interested parties “after a lovely drive with no interstate required from Nashville, Franklin or Columbia, Tennessee” to Arugula Star’s 182 acres banked by a stream.

Poised to share her knowledge with families, she invokes the question – ‘what does it mean to do everything yourself?’ The ancestor bell rings. How timely. Could all that is old be new again in a culture that lost its way to nourishment?

These questions prompt me to sign up for her new idea, a first – SAP ( Shared Agricultural Program). SAP includes hands-on farm visits to Arugula Star with an eventual harvest of 21 varieties of potatoes, 8 varieties of dry beans, 12 varieties of roots and 10 varieties of garlic for those participating. The roots that are grown in the summer/fall include beets, carrots, rutabagas and turnips. They can be ordered by SAP non-participants on the website

“By growing your own storage crops, you can experience an old world natural cycle that was a vital part of all human being existence…growing & consuming energized, chemical free food,” says Allie.

She has wisdom to share that is not available just anywhere these days. Partakers note that important things forgotten rise when biting into a delicious dish of self seeded potatoes. “With a rhythm and a season, life becomes purposeful. Nature provides a guided path of what to eat,” says Mother Allison as she calls to her two year son Eastenn Dutch who runs free along side baby seedlings.

Potatoes with Poppy Seeds (Aloo Posto)
from A Taste of India

A favorite of Allison’s and most popular in West Bengal – wonderful with rice

1 1/2 pound of 6 firm, smallish potatoes
6 tablespoons of vegetable oil
3 whole red chiles
1/2 cup white poppy seeds ground as fine as possible
1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 fresh hot green chilies

Peel the potatoes and cut them into 3/4 inch dice.
Heat the oil over medium heat.
When hot, put in the potatoes and fry until they are lightly browned and half cooked.
Remove from the pan.
Put the red chillies into the same oil.
As soon as they darken, put in the ground poppy seeds and 2 tablespoons of water.
Stir this paste until it turns brown.
Put in the potatoes and about 3/4 cup of water, turmeric, cayenne pepper, salt and green chillies.
Stir to mix and bring to a simmer for 5 to 10 minutes or until the potatoes are done.
*Whole chiles should only be eaten by those who know what they are doing.

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