Early Potatoes II

This is a continuation from the article Early Potatoes. In homage to the sun, I decided to wait until Summer Solstice, June 21, to dig up the golden yellow tubers, still a good month or two before most potatoes are ready. I was a little worried that I wouldn’t have anything to harvest so I gave the plants extra time to mature, turns out that was unnecessary. By the time I got my hands dirty I wasn’t disappointed with the results, the tubers were all the size of my fist. Within minutes they were on the BBQ and once served received a rave review from my guests that evening, an unexpectedly fine and delicate dish.

Some of my worry about the potoatoes came from the longer than expected wait to see them poke up above the soil. Normally I use my own stored potato seed, but this year I bought new seed that had been stored very well, too well in fact. Not only did the plants show up in the mail a little later than I wanted, but pre-sprouting them also took longer and with sprouts not achieving much size by planting time. My own cold storage is less than ideal and causes an early and more vigorous sprout that works well with an early planting. The other thing I noticed after digging them up was I had fewer but much larger tubers than I had experienced in the past.

earlypotatoesIn the UK potato varieties are classified into three categories: first earlies, second earlies, and main harvest. The first and second earlies are bred to tuber up several weeks before the main harvest varieties. Over here we call those potatoes new. Freshly dug new potatoes are a true delight and a real contrast from the large, bland and thick skinned kind you find in the stores. New potatoes are richer in flavor, full of moisture and have thin and delicate skins, so thin in fact I don’t ever bother pealing them. New potatoes also don’t store well, so they’re a true gardeners treat and can only be purchased seasonally from the farmers market.

No matter when you planted your own potatoes, or how long they take to mature, you can benefit from the taste of new potatoes buy harvesting a handful a few weeks after you see the flowers set. You can pull up the whole plant and harvest all of them, or carefully root around in the soil with your hand and pull just one or two from each plant to minimize root disturbance.

My favorite method of cooking new potatoes is on the outdoor grill. Place your gently washed potatoes onto a sheet of tinfoil, cut them in half if they’re too large. I like to add a few shallots or a fresh spring onion, whichever is most mature in the garden at the time. Then pull up some green garlic bulbs and add the cloves by the handful, or instead try using several garlic scapes. Then add add a tablespoon or two of good pastured tallow.  I also use lard, goose fat, duck fat or bacon grease (always from pastured animals) but tallow is my favorite. You can use olive oil but the potatoes are more likely to scorch and stick to the foil. I never ever use cheap vegetable oils as I believe them all to be mildly toxic. Complete the package by adding some fresh Thyme from the herb garden and sea salt, then carefully wrap it all up to minimize moisture loss and place it directly onto the hot grill. To time it right, I add the potatoes first as they do take some time to cook. They’re done when you can easily push a fork into the larger pieces all the way through.

If you have a favorite summer potato recipe please share.

~Sean