Tater tots: Young sisters among sculptors at LI Potato Fest

The Peconic Bay Winery‚Äč was the location for the Long Island Potato Festival on Aug. 10, 2014. With features such as craft beer, face painting and potato sack races, the festival recognized the Island's potato harvesting season, which begins in mid-August. (Credit: Newsday / Jessica Rotkiewicz)

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Sisters Carly and Natalie Shurbet stood in their matching blue tank tops Sunday, admiring the mashed potato sculptures they had made for the contest just a few minutes earlier.

"I wasn't nervous," Carly, 9, said proudly. "I finished early because I planned it out, I drew it on my chalkboard [at home]."

The contest was the first of four held at the inaugural Long Island Potato Festival at the Peconic Bay Winery in Cutchogue.

Both Carly and her 6-year-old sister were pleased with their creations. Carly had made a sunflower sculpture and Natalie had built a mashed potato snowman, complete with a small carrot nose.

"I didn't know what to do, so my mom and my sister helped me to decide to do a snowman," Natalie said, receiving a hug from her sister.

Guests of all ages arrived to spend the day at the event, which included 50 exhibitions, about a dozen food vendors and countless other activities.

"The potato has a rich culture on Long Island," said Patrick Esposito, media marketing coordinator for Starfish Junction Productions, which organized the event.

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Potatoes were once the dominant crop of Long Island, grown from the heights of Brooklyn, across the fertile breadth of the Island, to the eastern ends of both forks. New York State figures show that in 1866, the New York potato crop covered 275,000 acres, perhaps half of which was on Long Island.

In 1933, the first year Long Island figures are available, there were 43,000 acres of potatoes in Queens and Nassau and Suffolk counties.

In 1945, there were 72,000 acres of potatoes on Long Island, nearly all of them in Nassau and Suffolk.

"Now there's only maybe 25,000 acres," Esposito said.

The rich history is the reason the company wanted to organize the event, which, although it was the first such festival, drew about 1,500 guests.

"We came for the kids," said Colleen Franco, 41, of Manorville, who was there with her two sons, Connor, 9, and Brady, 6. "We thought it would be something different to do this summer."

Loretta Garland, 75, of Sayville came to win, and did -- she won for best potato salad.

"We [her family] all went, 'Ahh!' " she said. "It was wonderful."

Garland presented her potato salad to a panel of three judges, which included chef Marc Anthony Bynum, two-time champion from the Food Network show "Chopped."

Her winning salad, which earned her the top prize of a $50 gift certificate to Southampton Publick House, was a simple recipe containing few ingredients: red bliss potatoes, mayo, sour cream, Dijon mustard, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper.

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"It's a tried-and-true recipe," Garland said. "I've been doing it for over 50 years."

Two other challenges were held: A potato-peeling competition and a mashed-potato-eating contest.

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