Next to my excitement in turning over a well-rotted compost heap, comes the joyous anticipation of lifting the first potatoes. Will they have grown well? Will the slugs and other pests have got in there first and had a feast? But no. Here they are – somewhat irregular in shape due to the long, long dry spell with only two or three rain showers to spur them on – lovely Belle de Fontenay.
This is an heirloom variety introduced in France in 1885. Pale yellow, firm, waxy – ideal for steaming or boiling, their flavour apparently improving with keeping , although I cannot verify that bit as we generally eat as I dig. And as well as arriving early, these pommes de terre have other obliging qualities. They don’t mind what kind of soil they are grown in, and they seem to love my allotment, which given its unyielding soil, is a huge plus.
This year I planted most of the potatoes on the ground I’d covered with several inches of partially rotted compost back in the autumn. I also sprinkled in some biochar and fish, blood and bone meal before planting in April. This was a half and half no-dig enterprise, in as much as the overwintering compost cover saved me from having to dig over the whole plot as I would have done in the past. I didn’t dig trenches either, just a row of holes, one for each potato.
The ultimate no-dig method would be to simply bury the spuds by hand in the compost layer, thereafter adding more compost to earth them up. But then that requires an awful lot of compost.
Anyway, compromise is everything when it comes to allotment gardening.
The spuds in the photo were delicious, steamed and shared last night with good friends from Buffalo, Jack and Kathy, who come each year like swallows to spend the summer in Wenlock. Also on the menu was Chicken Hymettus (recipe below), and also from the allotment, finely sliced greens (Tuscan kale, Swiss chard, beet leaves, Greyhound cabbage), Onward peas, lightly steamed, and served with a walnut and parsley pesto sauce.
Hymettus Chicken (serves 4)
chicken portions cut in half if large – I used thighs as they were
limes – juice and zest of 3 (or 2 lemons)
saffron strands – a good pinch
oil and butter for frying
honey – 2 tablespoons preferably light and runny though I used gooey dark African
thyme – 2 teaspoons fresh chopped/ 1 level teaspoon dried
mint – 2 tablespoons chopped
salt and pepper
almonds flaked – a handful
Prick skin of chicken pieces, place in shallow dish and pour over lime juice and zest. Marinate in the fridge for 1-2 days, turning meat occasionally.
When ready to cook, put saffron in a cup and add 4 tablespoons boiling water and leave for 20 mins.
Lift chicken from marinade with slotted spoon and fry in butter and oil till golden brown all over.
Strain saffron and mix liquid with honey and the remaining marinade. Pour over chicken, add thyme (I actually used Greek oregano), half the mint, and salt and pepper. Cover and simmer very gently for 45 minutes, or until the chicken is tender. Toast the almond flakes and to serve, sprinkle over the dish with the rest of the mint.
This recipe works well cooked a day in advance and then reheated.
copyright 2017 Tish Farrell