I never used to grow spuds. They took up too much room, they got terrible and evocative diseases. Then a couple of years ago I finally listened to all my friends who talked about the taste of a freshly dug spud and unusual varieties you couldn’t find in the shops – appealing to my stomach: always a way to pique my interest. And I gave in.
I checked my new crop almost every day, watching for the first signs of blight (I think it must be some sort of ancestral race memory), which is very common around here. But by the time it appeared, as I knew it would, I’d eaten half the crop.
My friends were right, and I’ve never looked back, never resented the space or worried too much about blight. It’s just a fact of life and I’ve adapted. And I never, ever save my own seed potatoes. New and (hopefully) disease-free stock every year.
And there are last year’s crop, growing nicely in the background. Ratte and a test variety, Blue Danube.
And now I’ve saved enough egg boxes, it’s time to start off this year’s selection. They’re all chitting away happily on the spare bedroom windowsill. These are the Belle de Fontenays, looking a little over-exposed, but hey:
(The rest of the windowsills in the house will soon be covered by seed trays but for the moment there’s only one in progress: the broad beans.)
I really like small, nutty potatoes but bigger spuds – and some of my seed potatoes are enormous – are actually better for you. They contain more vitamin C – so much so that during the Second World War commercial growers in Britain weren’t permitted to lift immature ones.
Spuds were such a significant part of the diet that a cartoon character was developed to promote them, and I’m sure many people are familiar with the rather lovely Potato Pete:
I can feel a jingle coming over me:
‘Those who have the will to win,
Eat potatoes in their skin…’
The recipe leaflet included such standard recipes as potato and watercress soup, potato and bacon cakes and a rather pallid potato salad – though the portion sizes seem miniscule today, unsurprisingly – but also veer off into less familiar territory. Potato biscuits, anyone? Potato sandwich spread?
Perhaps not. I think I’ll go for a potato gratin with mushrooms; a matafaim – like a large latke but with garlic and no flour; Jansson’s Temptation, with anchovies; a hot potato salad with smoky bacon…