autumn reveries + perfecting potatoes
Wednesday 14th September 2011
“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun…” Enough. I do it every year. The rest is unbearably nostalgic and of dubious chronological accuracy anyway. I do love the next few weeks though; partly it’s the mellowness as we settle into a less hectic way of working with a more regular workforce; partly it’s the fruitfulness as we start filling the stores with the potatoes, carrots, beetroot, onions and squash; and partly it is the restoration of our bank balance as the emphasis swings from planting to harvesting. Surrounded by such abundance, with days shortening, the urge to dry, pickle and conserve can be almost oppressive.
I’m not sure what Keats would make of a modern potato harvest. When I started 25 years ago I had a single-row Johnson machine that could happily be pulled by a 30 horse-power tractor. A small shear went under the row, lifting the ridge onto a web which sifted out the soil, revealing my beloved nuggets which were then picked up by hand. In a good day, eight of us would harvest an acre; today the potatoes are planted into pre-sifted soil and three people astride 200hp tractors can harvest that same area in an hour. I still find it just as exciting seeing the crop emerge and I have no nostalgia for the backache of hand lifting, but sitting in the air-conditioned cab does make it hard to appreciate the wonder of this season.
In the intervening years the quality of the potatoes has only got better as we’ve become more proficient at controlling weeds and blight, and have selected the best flavoured varieties for our soils. We have just finished the wonderfully waxy and tasty Charlotte; consistently the best of the salad potatoes. Over the next month you will have: Santé (a good all-rounder), Marfona (floury, great for baking, roasting or mash but can disintegrate when boiled), then we plan two weeks of the red Desiree (not an easy one to grow organically but great flavour with a waxy texture). I hope you enjoy exploring their personalities as much as I do.
PS. This week also brings our much-awaited venison season, so whether you want to fill your freezer or just dabble with a casserole, make sure you add some to your order.