Potatoes – grow, cook, eat

new potato crop

first of the new potato crop (taken June 2010)

The ubiquitous potato is a staple of most people’s diet, and has been ever since the sea-faring Sir Francis Drake introduced them to our shores in the 1580s – and he did not think much of them as a food!  Yet they are packed with goodness. Although a year-round crop (whether freshly dug or stored), it will however be some months before we will be digging this season’s new potatoes and eating them, plain-boiled or – even more delicious – topped with freshly-chopped parsley and lashings of butter.

But it certainly IS time to be ordering the tubers (seed potatoes), whilst stocks of your favourite varieties are still available. Potatoes are divided into groups – according to their cropping time: first and second ‘earlies’ and maincrop, plus salad potatoes. They should be grown in well-worked soil, rich in humus (well-rotted farm-yard manure or garden compost).  In a 3-year rotational plan, they fit into the ‘roots’ section, but for those gardeners who grow a large quantity and favour a four-year rotation, plant them in the plot that has been vacated by the previous year’s roots. Those short of space could try patio planters or giant growing buckets. Dobies provide an excellent short guide to growing potatoes and offer  30 different varieties and a number of mixed collections. (See pages 30-34 of the 2011 catalogue, or click here to access the potato section on the website.)

tubers in egg boxes

I lay my tubers in egg boxes which stops them rolling about – and don’t forget to label them clearly if you are growing more than one variety

Mail-order tubers will arrive well before planting time and it is essential to unpack them immediately and lay them out in trays to ‘chit’ or sprout. Choose an airy frost-free place free from possible rodent attack ready to plant when the soil is fit, in March or April according to locality. (Tip: ensure you have a supply of horticultural fleece to cover the potato patch should a late frost threaten once the plants are well through the soil; even earthed up tops are susceptible.)

In the kitchen: potatoes can be served in so many ways: plain boiled or mashed, roast, fried, chipped or baked in their skins. At this time of year, alternatives to straight mash are welcome; we in our Cotswold kitchen love the Irish recipes for ‘Champ’ and ‘Colcannon’

champ ingredients

Ingredients for ‘Champ’: floury potatoes (Maris Piper shown here), spring onions, butter (in moderation! approx 40gms), 100ml milk and 50ml double-cream. Peel and boil potatoes to mashable state and whilst they are cooking, prepare the onions. Remove roots and approx 2cm of the tops, then peel back the outer layer. Chop and simmer in the milk and butter for 3 minutes. Drain and mash the potatoes and fold in the onion mixture and the cream.

A Passion for Potatoes by Paul Gayler

Do get hold of a copy of this beguiling book, and you will be able to continually delight your family with “over 150 innovative ways to enjoy potatoes.” Written by Paul Gayler (a chef who has worked at some of London’s most prestigious restaurants): hunger descended as soon as I opened the pages. What to prepare first? Starters, salads, breads, bakes, cakes, main courses or ‘a few sweet ideas’, and a whole lot more; all with the potato as the key ingredient. Useful, too, is the breakdown of recipe into categories, extra tips, and  the classification of potato by type (floury, waxy etc) and the list of varieties detailing their culinary capabilities. Published in September 2010 by Kyle Cathie; paperback ISBN 978-1-85626-949-0.

See you next week, or before then via our ‘comments’ section.

(This post written by contributor, Ann Somerset Miles.)

P.S. We all also want to tell you how delighted and pleased we are at the reaction to our new blog. Thank you to everyone who has viewed, reacted, left comments, clicked on the  links – and asked questions. Indeed, we can foresee the Comments section as providing a dialogue between you the reader and us, the Dobies blog-team, so do please read those bits as well. And you are clearly finding the ‘bookshop’ useful – we’ll be expanding that as often and as fast as we can.