Jenny Mollison: Planting spuds can buy a new tenant some time

Chitted potatoes ready for planting
Chitted potatoes ready for planting
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Planting potatoes is an enjoyable milestone in my gardening calendar. It’s something the grandchildren can help with.

I’m not trying to produce enough to keep the family going all year round, but prefer to grow a few old favourites and experiment with some others. About ten weeks after planting, I look forward to eating new potatoes with some butter and herbs.

I’ve heard it said that potatoes are the ideal crop for a patch of weedy, neglected ground. There may be some truth in it, but it seems to me that what really happens is that the fast growing potato foliage creates a good impression. By planting potatoes, the new tenant of an uncultivated allotment plot is buying a bit of time. The potatoes will look after themselves, keeping weeds at bay, allowing time for some hard graft on other parts of the plot.

Potato Days are wonderful events happening all over Scotland just now. I am going to several. I like being able to pick and choose individual tubers and not having to buy more than I can manage. However, Potato Days are more than just about buying potatoes.

I’m heading off to Glasgow Allotments Forum’s action-packed Potato Day tomorrow at Reidvale Neighbourhood Centre, Whitevale Street. When I’ve made my selections, and visited the stalls and displays, I can sit down with a cup of tea and enjoy some of the BarrowBand’s cheerful songs.

I’ve just had a sneak preview of a delightful new publication, Tatties for Tea, which will be launched there. This booklet has been produced by Ragged Band, a group of allotment plotters, cooks, artists and storytellers, all passionate about land and food.

It includes recipes, some history of potatoes, and cultural hints, with delightful illustrations by Emily Chappell. The group held several potato-themed dinner parties before selecting recipes which showed the humble spud in its full glory. Ignacio Canales writes about how potatoes were brought to Europe by Spaniards returning home from Chile. He includes his favourite childhood potato recipe, papas con mote.

Another fascinating section introduces Antoine-Augustin Parmentier. I know a French recipe called Hachis Parmentier, but I now know that Parmentier was an 18th-century French agronomist who promoted the use of potatoes as a cure for many ills. He also carried out amusing publicity stunts to promote potatoes which were then viewed with some suspicion.