I was hopeful that our Jersey Benne potatoes would be ready for the Christmas table, but as the big day drew close it become obvious that there was not much going on in the potato patch and that like many other people we’d be paying a fortune for a box or two of organically grown new potatoes for Christmas lunch. Oh yes, the plants had shot up, flowered and were wilting, but several excavations revealed nothing – just hairy dirt, really. We were bitterly disappointed – I had hoped to eat homegrown potatoes in the Year of the Potato. Oh well, we left the plants in the ground in the hope that something might grow, even a cupful of tiny tatters would be nice.
But today was the day and we decided to get in with a garden fork and forage. And there they were! I nearly cried with excitement – as did Remo, my husband and gardening buddy. I don’t feel this way about everything we grow, but potatoes, well, potatoes, they’re engraved on my heart (there’s a little red heart with an arrow going through it with ‘I love potatoes’ on it inside me, for sure). It’s the Irish in me. I can eat them any which way and love them every way.
The amazing thing about your own potatoes is not just the flavour, but the texture. Being freshly dug, the peel just slips off under running water with the dirt, and the texture is fudgey and dense and when they cook they smell all sort of mealy and starchy and remind me of my mum. And they’re loaded with Vitamin C, a great healthy antioxidant.
There’s not much to be done to new potatoes. They’re so good just with butter, salt and pepper, but my daughter Ilaria doesn’t eat butter so she has hers with extra virgin olive oil. I steam them, rather than boil them, because, sitting above hot water, rather than in it, preserves more of their flavour and nutrients (Vitamin C is water soluble, so you lose some of if you soak potatoes, or when you cook potatoes in water) and there’s less chance of the potatoes becoming waterlogged or overcooking.
The thing about growing potatoes is this: you don’t need a big garden to grow them – you can buy potato tube thingies – they’ve got a name I’m sure but I just can’t think of it – and grow them on your deck. Or convert a clean trash can (metal or plastic, but plastic is lighter and easier to move around) into a potato grower. Drill a few hole in the bottom and on the sides coming about one-third of the way up the container and fill the bottom with any smashed crockery or broken terracotta pots you might have around the place (we’ve always got a stack of broken things, and this is a great way to recycle them). Cover the broken china with 15cm of rich potting compost. You could use dirt and beef it up with seaweed or plant food if you want. Then take half a dozen sprouting seed potatoes and sit them on the compost with their sprouts pointing up. Cover them with more potting compost and give them a good watering. Once the green leaves appear, cover them with more compost, and just keep on with this little game letting them grow, then covering them, until you reach the top of the container. Keep them watered throughout and in a sunny position. Make sure not to drown them with water, or they’ll rot, but don’t let them get dry, either or they’ll not grow well, just regular and even watering. Once the plants flower and die down and the leaves dry and turn brown, dig ‘em up!
And lucky old me, we’ve only dug up a quarter of the potato patch so we’ve got plenty more potatoes to unearth!