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Thursday, 4 February 2021

A glut of potatoes

When I give my talk "Growing Food, Not Gluts", I talk about how it is easy to grow gluts of some things and hard or impossible to grow gluts of others. In the list of the impossible I include potatoes. They are so useful and versatile in the kitchen and they store so well that is seems impossible to grow too many or have to use them up quicker than the natural course of things.

Or so I thought. 2020, a year of the unusual, proved to be the year I grew a glut of potatoes. But, how? Well, firstly, we grew quite a lot of potatoes, but there isn't anything particularly unusual in that. Secondly, we didn't dig them up and use them as quickly as we might have done in previous years. I think this might be down to Steve's dodgy knee and his general lack of inclination to dig currently. And thirdly, and most importantly, there was a weird combination of cold and warm temperatures in the autumn that caused the potatoes to start to regrow whilst still in the ground.

We have never had this before, with potatoes generally being quite happy to sit in the ground until March before they start to regrow. As such, I wasn't sure whether a potato that had regrown would be inferior in quality to one that hasn't. It turns out that they are - with the area that has sprouted forming a very hard "eye" that has to be dug out of the potato before use, and the central area of the potato taking on a slightly different texture. They are still edible, especially if rendered down into mash, but it is harder work and for a less satisfactory result. As such, it seems only sensible to eat the potatoes quickly or process them in some way to make use of them before they deteriorate any more. Hence, I now have a glut of potatoes to deal with.

So, having identified the glut, it is now necessary to deal with it. Therefore, I have decided to dig up a whole bucket of potatoes (two rows) every time we need to restock our potato supplies. This is about double the amount I would normally have in the house at any one time. It means that I have an abundant supply of potatoes, which in turn means I am more likely to cook potatoes for dinner rather than rice or pasta or bread, and I can cook double portions and freeze some should I wish to.

I went out to dig up a double row of potatoes one sunny Friday afternoon, aware that the weather forecast for the weekend was grim. I'm so glad I did it as the allotment was covered in snow by Sunday! Whilst I was there I harvested a couple of leeks and some enormous yellow beetroot.

On Saturday morning I made a batch of leek and potato soup. This is Steve's favourite soup and it really feels as if it is made from nothing, being nothing more than homegrown potatoes, leeks, an onion and some stock. There was enough for lunch and some leftover to go into the freezer.

Saturday afternoon I made some beetroot and potato rostis, using the yellow beetroot, creating rostis that looked much more normal than the slightly unsettling purple beetroot ones. I made a big batch and we had a couple each with our hot dogs and I put the rest in the freezer.

On Sunday we had a roast dinner so I peeled and par boiled twice the usual amount of potatoes and made roast potatoes out of half of them and smothered the other half in goose fat (from Christmas) before putting them on a tray and freezing them.

Monday was sausages and mash and, yes, you guessed it, I made double the usual quantity of mash and put half of it in the freezer. It was an unusual evening in that my eldest was in the kitchen whilst I was cooking dinner. Normally she keeps herself tucked away in her bedroom, busily working on her creative A-levels. I say bedroom, there is a bed in there, but the rest of the space is dedicated to art so it feels like a choatic, creative workshop when I dare to venture in there. She had been working on a Klimt inspired oil painting solidly for several days and she had just finished it so had brought it down the kitchen to show it to me. 

With only a few minutes until dinner was due to be served, she had stayed. As she was on hand I asked her to run a fork over the top of the mash whilst I started to dish up. Needless to say it was the fanciest forking I have ever seen!

After that followed a rather fancy and very tasty potato and mushroom gratin, served up next to sirloin steak. And I also made a rather successful chicken and mushroom hotpot, where Steve particularly noted how tasty the potatoes were.

Anyway, it had been a productive few days in the potato glut battle, and I'm almost at the bottom of the bucket. Some inspired meals and some lovely gifts to my future self in the freezer.

Ironically, in the midst of all this, the postman knocked on the door with a parcel that proved to be our supply of seed potatoes for this year. 

"Careful, it's heavy," he warned as I bent to retrieve it from the doorstep.

"Oh, it's our seed potatoes," I said. Previous conversations with our postman had led us to discover that he too has an allotment. 

"Oh, yeah, right," he said, "yeah, probably should think about getting some myself."

"Well you'd better be quick because apparently the seed companies are inundated with orders this year," I told him.

"Oh well," he said, "doesn't matter as I haven't dug up the last lot yet. Might just let them regrow!"

Beetroot & Potato Rostis

4 medium to large potatoes
2 medium beetroot
Dried onion
Garlic salt or powder (optional)
Seasoning to taste

Peel the potatoes and cut into large roast potato sized pieces then par boil for about 10 minutes (depending on your potato variety). Once cooked, drain and run under a cold tap to cool the potatoes down enough to pick them up. Grate the potatoes into a large bowl, using long strokes on the grater. Wash and peel the raw beetroot then grate into the bowl with the potato. Add the seasoning. Combine well until it all sticks together. Use a circular pastry cutter to squash balls of mixture into the rosti shape. Place them on a floured plate, cover with Clingfilm and refrigerate for at least an hour or put in the freezer at this point.  To cook, heat some oil in a frying pan then fry for about 2 minutes on each side to brown then place in an oven for 20 minutes to cook through.

Potato & Mushroom Gratin (serves 4)

800g potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 onion, finely shopped
200-300g mushrooms, thinly sliced
Vegetable oil
Salt & pepper
Garlic powder or crushed garlic (optional)
300ml double cream
Grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 180°C and have a square casserole dish ready. Once you have prepared the potatoes, put them into a large bowl with the oil, salt and pepper and garlic and swirl it all around until the potatoes are evenly coated. Put a single layer of potato into the dish then scatter over some onion and mushrooms then repeat, finishing with a layer of potato. Carefully pour over the double cream, moving the dish to make sure it flows around the potatoes. Scatter over some parmesan then bake for 1 hour to an 1 hour and a quarter.

Chicken & Mushroom Hot Pot (serves 4)

Handful of dried mushrooms
800g potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
3 chicken breasts or 6 thighs
60g butter
1 onion, finely chopped.
100g closed cup mushrooms, sliced
40g plain flour
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 stock cube (chicken or vegetable)
Salt & pepper
Grated Parmesan

Put the dried mushrooms into about half a pint of boiling water and leave to soak for twenty minutes or so. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Once your potatoes are prepared, put them into a saucepan of boiling water, bring back to the boil then turn off the heat and allow the potatoes to sit in the hot water. Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces and gently fry to brown. As they begin to colour, add the closed cup mushrooms and fry for a further two minutes then transfer the chicken and mushrooms into a large ovenproof dish. Melt half the butter in a sauce pan then fry the onions in it until just beginning to colour then transfer this into the ovenproof dish. Using the same saucepan, melt the rest of the butter then add the flour, mustard powder and crumbled stock cube to it. Cook for a minute to make a roux then gradually incorporate the water from the dried mushrooms into the roux to make a sauce. Use more hot water if necessary until the sauce is the consistency of a thick gravy. Chop up the soaked mushrooms and add those to the ovenproof dish too. Taste the sauce and add seasoning to taste. Pour the sauce into the dish. Drain the potatoes and arrange in a couple of layers over the chicken. Season the potatoes and sprinkle over the Parmesan then bake for an hour.

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