When we were living in South Africa, it was a simple thing. Go to the shop, pick up either a sack of ‘tatoes or hand pick a few from the tray that suited your needs. Yes, sometimes they were really good, others a bit soapy, some, perhaps, a bit vrot (rotten) or green, but on the whole, they were what it said on the packet – quite simply – Potatoes. These were generally suitable for boiling, mashing, roasting, baking, chips, crisps or whatever other designs you might have on them.
Yes, there were also sweet potatoes and in season, new potatoes, but they were also exactly that – not Jerseys (aren’t they something you wear to keep warm?) or any other fancy name.
So going shopping for potatoes when we arrived in the UK proved somewhat challenging. All of a sudden you need to be able to select from Rockets, Maris Pipers, Charlottes, King Edwards, and so on – there are 80 (!) varieties of potatoes grown commercially in the UK… I mean to say, why, does there need to be so many?
Generally, the variety of potatoes available to purchase depends upon whether they are earlies, or main crops, where they come from and what they are intended to be used for.
Frustratingly, the one my husband and I found to be the best all-rounder, The King Edward, seems to be available only when we don’t need potatoes!
So you have potatoes grown especially, it seems, doomed to be made into wedges, boiled & mashed, roasted, steamed, chipped, Dauphinoised, added to salads or simply baked in their jackets – probably the best!
Oh, and don’t forget the All-Rounders… These are the ones so labelled in the supermarkets and generally seem to be Maris Piper.
Each has it’s own individual characteristics, and no doubt, its own followers.
For now, if you need to know more about the humble potato, I suggest you visit www.lovepotatoes.co.uk or for growing info, the Royal Horticultural Society has some handy advice on growing potatoes for the festive season.
Last year, my husband and I made the decision to grow our own potatoes for Christmas. We duly bought some potato bags, six of them, in fact, and three different varieties of potatoes. The plan was to plant three of each, in two bags, noting which we were planting where. Needless to say, communication broke down and we ended up with three different potatoes in each bag. We also tried to grow them out-of-doors – a definite no no! No problem, ‘cos no potatoes were produced until a few weeks ago, each the size of your average grape…
This year, I decided to read up on the subject. Bought Autumn planting potatoes, chitted them and have just planted them this morning. The advice proffered on the www seems to caution one not to bother (something I know my son-in-law would agree with!) but being stubborn, wanting to prove (?) it can be done, I will have another go. This time, I know to plant them in a well-drained bag/pot, in the greenhouse, cover the growing shoots with more soil, and when the vegetation starts to die off, remove it, leaving the potatoes (hoping there will be some) in the bag until harvesting for Christmas. They want to be kept moist, not wet. And left alone. So, I will let you know if we are having home grown or shop bought potatoes for our Christmas feast…
By the by, I bought an excellent cookbook dedicated to potatoes, for my daughter – it’s pretty much a guide to how to live on potatoes. Personally, I probably only use two or three potatoes a month so not too sure why I’m insisting on trying to grow some!
Fact: The Solanum family includes the tomato and potato (I’m just waiting to harvest my first crop of potatoes grown on a tomato graft – sold by a well known kitchen supply chain – more on that when I attempt to harvest!). As well as some beautiful flowering plants. I have just bought this lovely climber!
PS: aartappels is Afrikaans for potatoes in case you were wondering!
We’d love to hear your favourite tips for growing, cooking or eating the most versatile food on the planet!