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.

7 thought on “Potatoes – grow, cook, eat”
  1. Hi Ann, yet again a useful and informative blog, as soon as the ground is defrosted enough to work i’ll be digging in my compost crop with a large amount of well rotted manure and thinking about covering the beds up with plastic to start them warming. I’ve been pretty eager this year and have already recieved (from dobies of course) my seed potatoes which are in cardboard boxes in my garage, i’ve decided on international kidneys for early salads, maris peer as a second early and king edwards (my personal favourite) for a main crop, id be interested to hear which varieties you are planning on growning this year?
    I have to say the book recomendations are excellent, i ordered “How to store your garden produce” by Piers Warren and i’m absolutely chuffed to bits with it… I’ve made my own country wine and jams for some years now (next to my potatoes is a box of seville oranges for tomorrows marmalade session!) and will be able to expand my repertoire considerably!!

  2. James – so glad you liked the potato post. Our favourite is ‘Foremost’ ( as in the post photo) which we have to treat as a second early (even though it is a ‘first’) and also as our maincrop; for our soil is to cold, too many easterly winds and too high to be able to grow other than one crop. But we do love King Edward, though it doesn’t do well here. I am thinking this year of trying a tuber or two of many other varieties in my raised beds, or in planters – my side of the garden is more sheltered. And to be truthful, I am sure my husband’s allotment-sized plot is suffering from potato sickness as he grows more of that veg than anything else, and they do tend to overlap.

    Marmalade: I still use my grandmother’s recipe (considerably reduced in quantity, for her makings were of Edwardian proportions).

    So glad also that you like the Dobies Bookstore – we felt it would be an asset and save time for busy gardeners in sourcing titles they might like to buy. All the best, Ann from the Cotswolds.

  3. you must have a harsher enviroment than we do here Ann, how high up are you? although we suffer with a short season up in the north of cumbria, we are in a relatively sheltered area east of carlisle and our allotment site is on a south (ish) facing hill which helps, i managed earlies and main last year, i may be pushing it with three crops but i dont mind having my jerseys a little late and i believe king eds are reasonably hardy? Nothing ventured and all that!!
    On the marmalade front i would be interested in hearing your grandmothers recipe, i’ve used Delias very chunky traditional for one batch and for variety im going to do another batch, adding ginger, cinamon sticks and crushed cardamom pods in muslin to the initial poaching fluid (im undecided whether to leave it in for the ruduction stage or not) and see how it turns out.
    anyway, time for work.. all the best, James

  4. Even though my garden is too small for a planting of potatoes, it is wonderful to read how they get their start – and your egg carton idea is so brilliant. Your article this month has me racing to the grocery for ingredients to try Champ. Thank you for the inspiration!

  5. James – yes, we do sometimes struggle with a harsh environment, but not so extreme as many will encounter. It’s mainly our soil. (I’ll look out my Gran’s marmalade recipe for you shortly; probably add it to a post so all can enjoy it.)

    Kristi, good to hear from you in the USA. Did I mention patio tubs for potatoes? They are so easy – there’s a guide to using them on the Dobies website and, if you look at the pic of my small veg plot in the previous post, you will see potatoes flourishing bottom right (under the fig tree), and they were planted in Dobies tubs and grow-sacks. For a limited crop in a small space they are admirable, and nothing can beat that fresh-from-the-ground taste.

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