The New System is Here!
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We have kale from our own market garden this week, which is very exciting. Please note that as it’s been overwintered it won’t last as long as the kale from our farm picked in November or December, so you may want to eat it within a day or two of receiving it.
New in stock: stock. That is, we’re pleased to be offering two new varieties of 9 Meals From Anarchy stock, Garden Herb and Umami. 9 Meals From Anarchy is a very cool company that make little pots of stock concentrate from nothing but vegetables, and all three vareties are an easy way to add a little extra flavour to whatever you’re cooking. Also: gluten-free, organic, lower in salt than stock cubes.
We also have fresh turmeric on offer this week, for your teas and lattes, your curries and daals, your marinades or your cakes.
In the Veg Boxes This Week
Subject to last minute changes
Check out storage guidance for helpful tips and tricks on how to prolong the life of your fresh produce. If you’re wondering where your veg comes from, have a look at these maps. You can also join your fellow subscribers over in the Facebook group for lots of tips, tricks, and recipe ideas!
To contact us, ring 0141 378 1672 or email us at email@example.com
The Nice Bit
It is easy to imagine potatoes as a sort of ur-food, to assume they took their part in some vaguely imagined European past that is all mud and kings and cauldrons and long walks through forests, or something. But potatoes simply would not have been part of the historically real version of this unclear scene, and indeed Henry the VIII, the longest ago European person I learned about in primary school, never ate a potato. Potatoes are immigrants, in that they did not evolve in Europe and have never grown wild here; instead, they originate on the steep faraway slopes of the Andes, where at least 200 varieties are grown. There they have been farmed expertly by Andean peoples for about 8000 years, using hand-tools which allow the potatoes to be planted and harvested on the sides of the mountains; they processed the potatoes, freeze drying them overnight to preserve them, and sometimes turned the resulting dehydrated potato into flour or flakes, which could be rehydrated- essentially a very early variation on Smash. Potatoes did not reach Europe until the sixteenth century, and were preceded by sweet potatoes, which aren’t related to them really at all and which Henry VIII apparently did eat, and enjoyed, in case you were wondering (I was).
Potatoes are most commonly grown from potatoes; that is to say, we plant seed potatoes to grow potato plants which grow more potatoes. This means that each potato plant of a given variety is essentially a clone of the first, or alternatively the same plant, replanted a hundred, a thousand, a million times. Potatoes can also produce true seeds, although on most farms this is fairly rare: they can grow small fruit which look remarkably like a tiny green tomato, giving away their place in the family of tomatoes, aubergines, chillies and peppers. These fruit, being poisonous to us, we call seedballs, and they are remarkable not only for their unfamiliarity. Because potatoes have an unusual genetic makeup (tetraploid rather than diploid, I have read, but my poor brain understood only that they have more chromosomes than usual) each seed in the fruit is very different from the parent plant and very different from every other seed, and the plants they will grow are very different too, and are likely to be brand-new varieties. Potatoes can be remarkably consistent or remarkably diverse, and this is very useful indeed, as it means we have a number of reliably well-growing, delicious varieties, which differ from each other in size, flavour, texture, growing conditions. The potatoes grown in the Andes offer a beautiful example of the variety this one plant can produce: some are white and yellow, but others are blue or purple; some have patterns; some are smooth ovals but others are unfamiliar, shaped like a cluster of soap bubbles, or like long, curled-over sausages. Some varieties of potato are more resistant to blight, and some may be better able to withstand the changing climate.
We have a new variety of potatoes this week. They are new to us, and to Chapel Farm, and also fairly new to the world, as they were introduced in 2016. Delightfully, they are called Twinner, and they originate in the Netherlands. They are valued for their yellow flesh and resistance to blight. Graham, our good friend at Chapel Farm, is keen to hear what you think, so please email in any feedback. These potatoes are, like all potatoes, a direct heir of all the work and all the weather that has gone into growing its manifold ancestor potatoes all over the world. It is an international potato, as every potato eaten outside of the Andes is an international potato. It is also a very local potato, as it is an easy distance between Chapel Farm in North Berwick and our Veg Box HQ; and then, it goes to your home.
Potatoes have now spread throughout the world. This took a long time, and a great deal of things happened, to us and to the potatoes. Many of the things that happened to us are terrible, and the story of the potato is a story of colonialism, cruelty, inequality, famine, and power: in Ireland, in the Andes, all over Europe. There is no room here to do any part of this story justice, and I do not trust myself to do so either, so instead I will refer you elsewhere with strong encouragement, and move instead to the tuber present.*
Potatoes have proved popular pretty much everywhere they have been introduced. This is largely because they are incredibly nutritious, producing an incredible amount of food and, vitally, calories per acre planted. They contain enough protein and vitamin C to live on, and you can survive eating potatoes alone. They are reasonably easy to grow, store well, and are, frankly, delicious. In the potato books I have read I have seen the potato referred to in many degrading terms: it is simple, humble, ordinary, boring, etc etc. Perhaps it is simply because my dad made the best roast potatoes on the planet, or perhaps it’s because I really like chips, but I have never thought of potatoes as boring. Rather, I see them as deliciously versatile, capable of incredible transformation, as varied in preparation as they are in genetics. Add hot fat and they can become crisp and crystalline; boil and they’re fluffy; mash and they’re even fluffier; bake and they are creamy and crunchy, a perfect canvas. And as potatoes are now grown in every nation on earth, there is certainly no shortage of recipes to draw on, with a million flavour profiles and textures to attain. We may imagine potatoes as being an old fashioned homely sort of vegetable, and get bored of them, but they have taken root everywhere they have travelled to, and found a welcoming home in all the pots and pans of the earth.
In the spirit of celebration of this delightful little tuber, I would like to share some of my favourite ways to eat potatoes with you, and some which I have not tried but definitely intend to.
Nigella Lawson’s tuscan fries — cooked in olive oil that you heat from cold with the potatoes, this method of making chips is simple but produces effects reminiscent of triple-cooked perfection.
Also Nigella’s brown butter colcannon— somehow an improvement on what was already more or less perfect, and a great use for that Locavore kale you have next week.
Another excellent use for kale is in this Portuguese Caldo Verde, a perfect soup for spring.
Potato Confit — invented at a restaurant called the Quality Chop House, this is a sort of combination of a dauphinoise and chips. It is a two-day project in which you must first slice potatoes incredibly thin; then layer with fat; then bake; then cool, with tins pressing the whole down; then slice into batons; then, finally, deep fry. But if you’re a big fan of potatoes it’s worth it for the end results, and if you’re a project-minded cook it’s a great way to show off.
Potato Dauphinoise— Much easier, still good. I use this recipe and find the anchovies to be indispensable. I serve it as a main with a big salad and some purple sprouting broccoli when it’s in season.
Roast Potatoes — no recipe here, except for mine, which is to chop potatoes into fairly small chunks (most potatoes will be in quarters but some may be in fifths). Parboil until just soft around the edges. Meanwhile, heat a lot of fat (either dripping or goose or olive oil) in a roasting tin in an oven set to about as hot as your oven goes. When the potatoes are parboiled, drain very well and return to the pot. Put on the lid and shake vigorously. Add to the hot fat, making sure there is plenty of room in the tins so that they roast rather than steam- you may need to use two tins. Roast for about 15 minutes, then turn them over and put them back in for another 15, until golden and crispy all over. Consider serving not only as part of a roast, but as a main in itself, with some green veg and maybe an egg.
Sichuan Shredded Potatoes — potatoes stir-fried with peppercorns, ginger, and garlic. I’ve not made this yet but I promise you I will very soon
Masala Dosa — the dosa may also be a bit of a project, but nothing can stop you from just making the delicious masala aloo filling.
Danish Caramelised Potatoes — usually eaten at Christmas, but why not give it a go when the new potatoes are at their newest and sweetest?
Columbian Salt-Crusted Potatoes — another recipe for those small, waxy new potatoes.
Aloo Gobi — Cauliflower and potatoes are the best of friends, after all.
Gamja Bokkeum — Korean sweet soy-glazed potatoes- serve as a banchan alongside other Korean side-dishes, or scale the recipe up to have as a stand-alone side (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms) to bulgogi.
* The definitive book about the history of the potato is Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent by John Reader, and I thoroughly enjoyed Potato (I’m afraid every book about potatoes is called “Potato”) by Rebecca Earle, which is a thoughtful and entertaining history concentrating on the role of the potato in resisting and building modernity. I got a little bit nerdy about potatoes reading these books, join me.