Pumpkin, Cheese and Garlic Bake [Vegetarian Christmas dish]

Christmas dinner can be a little tricky if you are vegetarian. Sure, you’ve got all the veg, bread sauce, Yorkshire puds and vegetarian stuffing if you like it, but unless you are splashing out on a nut roast, there isn’t a lot to make up a ‘main meal’. As a vegetarian – not just a vegetarian, but a fussy vegetarian who needs a balanced meal with all the groups for health reasons – Christmas dinner can be a pain when it comes to protein. I don’t like bread sauce, Yorkshire puds, stuffing or nut roast, so I’m basically doomed. This year, as I was catering for two vegetarians, I thought it was time to try a new recipe. I still had three pumpkins from the veg patch and I thought it was perfect for xmas dinner – I know they are traditionally linked with Thanksgiving, but in the UK we didn’t have it a month earlier so we could afford to use the pumpkin again!

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I needed something quick and simple, with some protein in. I opted for cheese. As pumpkin is, well, bland, I also decided to throw some garlic in there too.

It is really basic and can be made in advance of the big day so it doesn’t take up space in the kitchen. Of course, you could make this any time of the year too ūüėČ

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Pumpkin, Cheese and Garlic Bake

(Serves 6)

-1 large pumpkin -Olive oil, for drizzling -260g cheddar cheese -20g Swiss gruye -2 garlic cloves

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. Cut the pumpkin and remove the seeds. Cut the pumpkin into large slices and place on baking trays. Drizzle with olive oil and roast in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until golden and cooked. Allow to cool completely.
  3. Cut the pumpkin up into small cubes and place in an oven-proof dish.
  4. Grate the cheese and dice the garlic up into small pieces. Mix together and then sprinkle it over the top of the pumpkin.
  5. Preheat the grill to high and heat the bake until the cheese has melted at the top is golden – it should only take a minute or two so keep an eye on it. Or, preheat the oven to 200C and bake for approximately 10-20 minutes, or until the top is golden and the cheese has melted.
  6. Serve. Store in the fridge when cold.

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Aubergine (Eggplant) Curry

I am going through a bit of an aubergine (eggplant) phase.

This curry is quick, simple and delicious with some rice and parsley and most of the ingredients can be sourced from your own veg patch.

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Aubergine Curry

Serves 2

-1 large aubergine, de-stalked and cut into medium sized pieces -Coconut oil, for frying -1 large onion, finely sliced -2 cloves of garlic, diced -1 1/2tsp mustard seeds -1tsp nigella seeds – 1tsp coriander seeds -1/2 tsp ground turmeric -1 1/2 tsp garam masala -4 large tomatoes/ 8 cherry tomatoes, cut into pieces -2 handfuls of parsley, to serve -Rice, to serve

  1. Preheat the grill to high. Place the aubergine under the grill and toast until lightly charred on each side. Set aside.
  2. Put the coconut oil in a frying pan and add the onion. Fry until turning golden, then turn the heat down to simmer.
  3. Add the mustard, nigella and coriander seeds. Mix and simmer for a couple of minutes before adding the ground turmeric and garam masala, followed by the garlic. Mix.
  4. Add the chopped tomato and turn the heat up. Keep stirring. The aim is to get the tomatoes to break down as much as possible before serving.
  5. Cut the aubergine into small pieces and mix into the curry. Keep stirring for a few minutes until the tomatoes have released their juices and broken down so that the ingredients look combined.
  6. Serve with fresh parsley scattered on top alongside rice (or I have had it with potatoes, to make it extra home-grown magic).

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Stuffed Aubergines (Vegetarian)

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These are surprisingly easy, nutritious and delicious to make.

Stuffed Aubergines (Vegetarian)

(Serves 1)

– 1 aubergine -Olive oil, for greasing -1 large tomato -1 handful of parsley leaves -2 generous handfuls of cheddar/parmesan cheese -Salad, to serve

  1. Preheat the grill to high.
  2. Cut the aubergine in half after removing the stem. Cut and scrape the insides out and set them aside. Grease the aubergine halves in olive oil and place under the grill, turning them over as the brown.
  3. Meanwhile, cut the insides into small cubes. Also cube the tomato and tear up the parsley leaves. Mix together.
  4. Once the aubergine halves are cooked, remove from the grill. Stuff the insides with the cubes and press down the cheese on top. Place back under the grill and leave for about five minutes until brown and bubbling. Serve with salad.

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Recipe: Courgette and Cheese on Toast

It is a universal fact that cheese and courgette go well together. Well, it is a universal fact concerning this blog.

I had the crazy but actually good idea of jazzing up the ordinary cheese on toast – what about adding courgette too?

I was a little bit hesitant, seeing as I was going to be eating it, but it was actually good. I had no need to fear, and I survived it!

It made a change to just simple cheese and bread and is another way of using up a courgette if you are having a glut.

Enjoy!

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Courgette and Cheese on Toast

(Serves 2)

-2 slices of bread of choice -200g cheddar cheese (or enough for 2 people) -1 medium sized courgette

  1. Preheat the grill to a high temperature. Place the two slices of bread underneath it and toast 1 side.
  2. Slice or grate the cheese. Cut the courgette lengthways in half. Cut each strip in half again and cut the lengths into cubes, 1/2 a courgette per person.
  3. On the side of the bread that has not been toasted, spread the cheese over the surface. Spread the cubes of courgette over the top of the cheese.
  4. Place the bread back under the grill and toast until the cheese is bubbling and melted. Serve with a side salad.

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Okra

Okra (okro, ladies’ fingers, ochro or gumba) is from the mallow family (includes cotton and cacao). The flowering plant has edible green seed pods.

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Okra’s origins are disputed – it is generally believed that it originated from Ethiopia.¬†The routes by which okra was taken from Ethiopia to North Africa, the eastern Mediterranean, Arabia, and India, and when, are by no means certain.¬†The¬†Egyptians¬†and Moors¬†of the 12th and 13th centuries used the¬†Arabic¬†word for the plant,¬†bamya, suggesting it had come into Egypt from Arabia, but earlier it was probably taken from¬†Ethiopia¬†to¬†Arabia.¬†The plant may have entered southwest Asia across the¬†Red Sea¬†or the¬†Bab-el-Manded¬†straight to the¬†Arabian Peninsula, rather than north across the¬†Sahara, or from India. One of the earliest accounts of okra use is by a Spanish Moor who visited Egypt in 1216 and described the plant under cultivation by the locals who ate the pods with meal.

From Arabia okra was spread over North Africa, completely around the Mediterranean, and eastward.The absence of any ancient Indian names for it suggests that it reached India after the beginning of the Christian Era. Although the plant has been well known in India for a long time, it is not found wild there. Modern travelers have found okra growing truly wild, however, along the White Nile and elsewhere in the upper Nile country as well as in Ethiopia.

The plant was introduced to the Americas by ships plying the Atlantic Slave Trade by 1658, when its presence was recorded in Brazil. In Louisiana, the Créoles learned from slaves the use of okra (gumbo) to thicken soups and it is now an essential in Créole Gumbo. Okra may have been introduced to southeastern North America from Africa in the early 18th century. By 1748, it was being grown as far north as Philadelphia. Thomas Jefferson noted it was well established in Virginia by 1781. It was commonplace throughout the South by 1800, and the first mention of different cultivars was in 1806.

Today okra is popular in Africa, the Middle East, Greece, Turkey, India, the Caribbean, South America and the Southern U.S. It is not a very common vegetable in most European countries, except for Greece and parts of Turkey. Okra is commonly associated in Southern, Creole, and Cajun cooking since it was initially introduced into the United States in its southern region. It grows well in these warm climates.

The species is a¬†perennial, often cultivated as an annual¬†in temperate climates, and often grows to around 2 metres (6.6¬†ft) tall. The¬†leaves¬†are 10‚Äď20 centimetres (3.9‚Äď7.9¬†in) long and broad, palmately lobed with 5‚Äď7 lobes. The¬†flowers¬†are 4‚Äď8 centimetres (1.6‚Äď3.1¬†in) in diameter, with five white to yellow petals, often with a red or purple spot at the base of each petal. The¬†fruit¬†is a capsule up to 18 centimetres (7.1¬†in) long with¬†pentagonal¬†cross-section, containing numerous¬†seeds. Okra¬†is cultivated throughout the tropical and warm temperate regions of the world for its fibrous fruits or pods containing round, white seeds. It is among the most heat- and drought-tolerant vegetable species in the world and will tolerate¬†soils¬†with heavy¬†clay¬†and intermittent moisture, but frost can damage the pods.

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Sow okra seeds indoors as early as February, about an inch in pots of compost. Leave in a warm room to germinate and keep well watered. Once a good height, plant on into large pots and keep in a greenhouse. They like humid conditions so keep well watered.

The seed pods rapidly become fibrous and woody and, to be edible, must be harvested when immature, usually within a week after pollination. They can be frozen easy-peasy in a bag or kept in the fridge for a few days before use.

Okra is available in two varieties, green and red. Red okra carries the same flavor as the more popular green okra and differs only in color. When cooked, the red okra pods turn green.

The most common disease afflicting the okra plant is verticillium wilt often causing a yellowing and wilting of the leaves. Other diseases include powdery mildew in dry tropical regions, leaf spots, and root-knot-nematodes.

Okra is a good source of vitamin C and A, also B complex vitamins, iron and calcium. It is a good source of dietary fibre.

Ridged along its length, the green, fuzzy pod contains rows of edible seeds that release a mucilaginous (sticky) liquid when chopped and cooked, which has led to it being used to thicken soup and stew recipes but it can also served whole as a side dish. Its flavour is quite subtle, so it benefits from being cooked with strong, spicy ingredients. Stir-fry, chopped or whole (6-12 minutes); steam whole (5 minutes); grill whole (2-3 minutes each side); chop and add to soups, stews and casseroles.

This is an Indian curried version of okra – a simple recipe for using it. You just slice the okra up into pieces and fry it in the spice mix until cooked. Serve it as a side dish alongside another curry, some rice and some naan bread for extra yummy-ness.

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Curried Okra

(Serves 6)

‚Äď 1 large onion, finely sliced ‚Äď Ghee or oil, for frying ‚Äď 1 tbsp mustard seeds ‚Äď 1 tbsp nigella seeds ‚Äď 1/2 tbsp fenegreek seeds ‚Äď 1 handful curry leaves (optional) ‚Äď 1 tsp cumin ‚Äď 1 tsp ground coriander ‚Äď 1 tsp ground turmeric ‚Äď 1 1/4¬† tsp ground garam masala -2 large garlic cloves, diced -250g okra, cut into chunks

  1. Oil a large frying pan. Peel and slice the onion into thin strips and place in the pan. Heat for a few minutes until the onion turns golden brown before turning down to simmer. Add the mustard seeds, nigella seeds, fenegreek seeds and curry leaves, stirring in the ingredients to combine. Allow the contents of the pan to simmer for a few minutes to absorb the flavours.
  2. Add the other spices: cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and garam masala. Add the garlic. Stir in the cut up chunks of okra and leave to simmer until fried and combined with the spices.
  3. Remove from the heat and serve alongside more curry, rice or Indian breads, such as naan or chapatis. Store any left overs in the fridge or freeze.

Sweet Potatoes

It will never work… but I bought two Sweet Potatoes to ‘chit’… then we used one for supper because we decided a) it won’t work, they are too difficult to chit and then keep alive in England and b) if it DID work, we didn’t want that many! They were giant…¬†

Sweet Potatoes are famously difficult to grow in England because of our bad weather in comparison to South America or Africa where they thrive. We should really stick to our normal potatoes, which is fine by me because I think they go with more meals, but it is fun to try out these new vegetables. Despite its name and look, sweet potatoes are nothing like potatoes. They taste different, are from a different family etc. They are a completely different vegetable hence why we decided we might as well give it a go and try growing one despite the odds being pretty much stacked against us! If you buy your sweet potatoes to grow properly online (which is probably better than me getting one from the market, this process has a very poor succession report) then they will arrive often as plug-plants to make things easier. Read on to find out some interesting history, nutrition and how to grow facts about sweet potatoes, as well as a yummy recipe at the bottom…¬†

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Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas) is a dicotyledonous plant that belongs to the morning glory family Convolvulaceae. Its large, starchy,¬†sweet-tasting, tuberous root are a root vegetable. They are also known as yams (although the soft, orange sweet potato is often called a¬†“yam”¬†in parts of North America, the sweet potato is botanically very distinct from a genuine yam¬†(Dioscorea), which is native to Africa and Asia and belongs to the monocot family Dioscoreaceae),¬†or kumara. Sweet potatoes are only distantly related to potatoes, they aren’t from the same ‘family’¬†but that family is part of the same taxonomic order as sweet potatoes, the Solanales.¬†Although the sweet potato is not closely related botanically to the common potato,¬†they have a shared etymology. The first Europeans to taste sweet potatoes were members of Christopher Columbus’¬†expedition in 1492. Later explorers found many cultivars under an assortment of local names, but the name which stayed was the indigenous Taino¬†name of¬†batata. The Spanish combined this with the Quechua¬†word for potato,¬†papa, to create the word¬†patata¬†for the common potato. The first record of the name “sweet potato” is found in the Oxford English Dictionary,¬†1775.

The plant is a herbaceous perennial vine. It bears alternate heart-shaped or palmately lobed leaves (sometimes eaten as a green) and medium-sized flowers. The edible tuberous root is long and tapered, with a smooth skin. The colour ranges between yellow, orange, red, brown, purple, and beige. Its flesh ranges from beige through white, red, pink, violet, yellow, orange, and purple. Sweet potato cultivars with white or pale yellow flesh are less sweet and moist than those with red, pink or orange flesh.

The origin¬†and domestication of sweet potato is thought to be in either Central America or¬†South America.¬†In¬†Central America,¬†sweet potatoes were domesticated at least 5,000 years ago.¬†In South America, Peruvian sweet potato remnants dating as far back as 8000 BC have been found.¬†The sweet potato was grown in Polynesia¬†before western exploration. Sweet potato has been radiocarbon-dated¬†in the Cook Islands¬†to 1000 AD, and current thinking is that it was brought to central Polynesia around 700 AD, possibly by Polynesians who had traveled to South America and back, and spread across Polynesia to¬†Hawaii¬†and New Zealand from there.¬†Sweet potatoes are cultivated throughout tropical and warm temperate regions wherever there is sufficient water to support their growth.¬†Due to a major crop failure, sweet potatoes were introduced¬†to¬†China in about 1594. The growing of sweet potatoes was encouraged by the Governor Chin Hs√ľeh-tseng (Jin Xuezeng).¬†Sweet potatoes were introduced as a food crop in Japan, and by 1735 was planted in Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune’s¬†private garden.¬†It was also introduced to¬†Korea¬†in 1764.¬†Sweet potatoes became popular very early in the¬†islands of the Pacific Ocean,¬†spreading from Polynesia to Japan and the Philippines.¬†They are featured in many favorite dishes in Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and other island nations. Uganda¬†(the second largest grower after China), Rwanda, and some other African countries also grow a large crop which is an important part of their peoples’ diets. The¬†New World, the original home of the sweet potato, grows less than three percent (3%) of the world’s supply. Europe has only a very small sweet potato production, mainly in¬†Portugal.

The plant does not tolerate frost.¬†It grows best at an average¬†temperature¬†of 24¬†¬įC, abundant sunshine and warm nights. Not really suited to the UK. Annual rainfalls of 750‚Äď1,000¬†mm (30‚Äď39¬†in) are considered most suitable, with a minimum of 500¬†mm (20¬†in) in the growing season. The crop is sensitive to drought at the tuber initiation stage 50‚Äď60 days after planting, and it is not tolerant to water-logging, as it may cause tuber rots and reduce growth of storage roots if aeration is poor.

Unlike normal potatoes, sweet potatoes are grown from ‚Äėslips‚Äô. These are the long shoots that have been removed from ‚Äėchitted‚Äô sweet potato tubers. ‚ÄėSlips‚Äô don‚Äôt have roots, although sometimes there are signs of small roots beginning to appear. The roots will grow once the ‚Äėslip‚Äô has been planted. Whilst it is possible to grow your own ‚Äėslips‚Äô from supermarket sweet potatoes, most supermarket varieties are not sufficiently hardy to grow well in the UK so crops are likely to be disappointing.

When they arrive the ‘Slips’ will look withered, but place them in a glass of water overnight and they will quickly recover. The next day you can plant them up individually into small pots of multi-purpose compost. When planting sweet potato slips, it‚Äôs important to cover the whole length of the stem, so that it is covered right up to the base of the leaves.¬†Sweet potato plants are not hardy so you will need to grow them on in warm, frost free conditions for 3 weeks or more until they are established. Warm, humid conditions will quickly encourage the slips to produce roots. They will most likely need to be grown completely inside a greenhouse in the UK climate in large pots filled with good compost and lots of feeding.¬†Sweet potatoes have a vigorous growth habit and long sprawling stems. In the greenhouse it may be useful to train the stems onto strings or trellis to keep them tidier.

Varieties to consider:

‚ÄėGeorgia Jet‚Äô – considered to be particularly reliable.

‘T65’¬†– its red skins contrast nicely with the creamy, white flesh.

‚ÄėBeauregard Improved‚Äô – a best selling variety, producing smaller tubers with a lovely salmon-orange flesh.

‘O Henry’ – richly flavoured,¬†has a slightly different, bushier habit than other varieties and produces it‚Äôs tubers in a cluster which makes for easier harvesting.

Sweet potatoes can be used soon after harvesting, but they will store well for several months if the skins are cured properly. Lay them out in the sun for a few hours immediately after harvesting and then move them to a warm, humid place for 10 days Рa greenhouse is ideal. Once the skins have cured they can be stored in cooler conditions provided that they are kept dry. In late summer, approximately 12 to 16 weeks after planting, the foliage and stems start to turn yellow and die back. Now is the time to start harvesting sweet potatoes, although they can be left longer if you prefer larger tubers. If outdoor grown, lift them before the frosts or they will be damaged.

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene). They are also a very good source of vitamin C, manganese, copper, pantothenic acid and vitamin B6. Additionally, they are a good source of potassium, dietary fiber, niacin, vitamin B1, vitamin B2 and phosphorus.

Sweet potatoes can replace a normal potato in any recipe, but they do have a slightly sweeter taste so some things might not go with it as much (I can’t quite picture my all-time favourite baked potato and baked beans being quite the same with the sweet potato). I’ve had sweet potato stews that were yummy, curried sweet potato recipes are out there, sweet potato salads, baked and stuffed with humous, tofu, lentils, coronation chicken, ham, bacon, eggs. We’ve seen the sweet potato brownies and muffins and breads (have not tried any of these, I must admit). I like them boiled with greens and cheddar cheese – they go very well with cheese. In fact, the best meal that includes sweet potato that I have had is Cauliflower-Sweet Potato-Cheese. Now that is a good combination. And here is a recipe:

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Cauliflower-Sweet Potato-Broccoli-Cheese

(Serves 6) 

  • 1 large cauliflower
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1 large broccoli

For the cheese sauce: 

  • 7g butter
  • 1/2-1tbsp plain flour
  • 300g-400g grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 pint of milk
  1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Rinse and cut up the cauliflower into pieces. Peel and cut up the sweet potato into small chunks. Put both in the pan of water and reduce the heat to low. Boil for 5 minutes before rinsing and cutting up the broccoli and adding it. Boil for about another 5 minutes or until all the vegetables are cooked.
  2. To make the cheese sauce: Put the butter in a saucepan over a high heat to melt. Add the flour, stirring. Take off the heat and stir until combined. Add the milk, a little at a time, stirring. Warm it up over a high flame, stirring. Wait until it bubbles, then turn it down and let it simmer, so it is a thick sauce. Turn of the heat and stir in the cheese a little at a time until dissolved.
  3. Turn the grill onto high or the oven to about 180C.
  4. In a large ovenproof dish, scrape the drained vegetables into the bottom and scrape the cheese sauce over the top. Scatter extra grated cheddar on top, if you would like to have a crispy topping. Place under the grill or in the oven and cook until it is brown on top (it will be a few minutes under the grill, longer in the oven).
  5. Serve hot, with more vegetables like peas or runner beans if you would like.

My other favourite variation is Cauliflower-Potato-Courgette-Broccoli-Cheese. Yum. 

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The MIGHTY Potato

I do love potatoes. I love cooking with them. Eating them. But I particularly love to grow them. They can be easy to grow and take care of themselves quite well as long as they get space, food and water – and you keep your fingers crossed that the blight will miss you or will hit your crops in August rather than May or June.

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The potato, the perennial Solanum tuberosum, is the world‚Äôs fourth largest food crop, following rice, wheat, and maize. The potato‚Äôs cultivation in South America my span back 10,000 years but tubers do not keep well in archeological recordings and therefore precise identification of those that have been discovered is difficult. However, the earliest finding was found on the coastal sight of Ancon, central Peru, dating 2500 BC. Potatoes provided the Inca Empire as a principle energy source, perhaps their predecessors and the Spanish successors too. At 10,000 feet altitude, occupants of Peru could freeze the potatoes and preserve them as a food source, turning them into ‚Äėchuno‚Äô. The Spanish fed chuno to silver miners during the 16th century that funded their country.

The Spanish Conquistadors carried the potato to Europe. Sailors of Basque’s families began to cultivate the crop along the Biscay coast of northern Spain. Sir Walter Raleigh is credited with bringing potatoes to Ireland in 1589 where they were established near Cork. It took nearly four decades for the vegetable to spread across the rest of Europe.

The Spanish army spread potatoes amongst the peasants where they went. To begin with, the vegetable took up so much space on land that was reserved for livestock that potatoes were restricted to garden growers rather than fields. It was in the 1700s that the French and German governments and noble landowners promoted the rapid conversion of fallow lands into potato fields. They had discovered that potatoes were easier to grow in a European climate rather than wheat or oats during the ‚ÄėLittle Ice Age‚Äô where temperatures rapidly dropped – potatoes continued to grow when other staple crops failed. Famines during the 1770s also contributed to their rise in popularity. Thus, the potato became an important staple crop in northern Europe. By the 19th century, the potato had replaced the turnip as the most popular crop to harvest.

The potato had three main advantages during the 19th century: it had a lower rate of spoilage, its bulk satisfied hunger and it was cheap. In England, potatoes were popular for the urban workers to grown in their backyards for an inexpensive source of food. The potato became equal to iron in its ‚Äėhistorically revolutionary role‚Äô (Friedrich Engels).

In Ireland, the expansive potato production was due to landless labourers renting tiny plots of ground from land owners who were interested in raising cattle and grain for market. A single acre of potatoes and the milk of one cow was considered enough to feed a whole family in a rural population. However, in the 1840s a major outbreak or potato blight swept through Europe after originating from the Americas. A lack of genetic diversity, especially in Europe, from the low number of varieties left the crop vulnerable to disease. The blight destroyed potato crops all over Europe but the damage done to Ireland where the working class relied on potatoes was significantly awful as their main food staple disappeared in 1845. The Lumper potato that was widely cultivated in Ireland before the strike of disease yielded large crops but was poorly resistant to blight. Dependence on the Lumper turned to disaster. The Irish Famine led to approximately a million deaths due to starvation and disease that attacked the weekend bodies that were lacking in nutrition due to the sudden reduction of food. There was a massive emigration to Britain, the US and Canada during this time and did not start to settle until the beginning of the 20th century after around a million had left.

Blight remains an ongoing problem in Europe and the US. During the crop year of 2008, many potatoes certified as organic were sprayed with copper pesticide to control potato blight. On analysis, these potatoes contained a low value of pesticide residue but the highest amongst the fifty vegetables analysed.

There is not much one can do with blight, only grow early varieties to try to beat the inevitable disease. Blight strikes when it is hot and moist, usually in late summer like August when we seem to get a period of high rainfall (hence my fears for this years wet summer weather after such a dismal June). The disease causes the potatoes to rot. The tell-tale signs are dark blotches on the leaves. At the first sign, cut away the foliage and burn, do not compost as the disease is airborne. Try and leave the infected plant in the ground for a couple of weeks to allow the skins to mature and hope that when you lift the potatoes, they have developed enough to be eatable and have not rotted down to mush.

Other problems one might encounter when grown potatoes are potato beetles and moths that spread infections to the plant. Another is the potato cyst nematode, a microscopic worm that thrives on the root and causes the plants to wilt. Its eggs can survive in the soil for year, hence the importance of crop rotation. The other is potato scab – just peel your potatoes well. The same attitude should be taken for slightly green potatoes that have been exposed to light: peel and cut the green areas out before eating unless all of the potato is green. Then I am afraid you will have to discard it.

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When growing potatoes, I like to class them as First Earlies, Second Earlies and Maincrop varieties and generally plant them in that order.

I dig a trench Рit doesn’t need to be too deep, about one or two stabs with a spade will do Рand fill it with well-rotted manure and soil before applying a good layer of mulch over the top to hold in the nutrients and moisture. Potatoes love a well-fed and watered bed with acidic soil. Potato scab is more of an issue in alkaline soil.

‚ÄėChitting‚Äô is nice and easy. Place the potato tubers you are going to plant in a dry, cardboard holder. We use our multiple of egg boxes or those cardboard containers they stock yoghurt containers in at supermarkets (I shamefully buy trays worths when I go for my breakfast). Leave the container on a windowsill in the light during early spring. The seed potatoes develop nodules, or chits. These are the beginning of new growth. When you have two or three chits, you can start planting.

To plant once chitted (as early as February or March they can start going in), dig a hole in your prepared trench or bed, 10 cm down for Earlies, 20cm for others. Place your potato in, chits up, and infill, forming a small mound so you can recognise the spot where your new shoots will start coming through. Leave 30cm gaps between each plant. It is a good idea to place some fleece or another cover over the top if you are planting them out early on in the year and the frosts are still around when the leaves start to grow – frost will damage the leaves and slow down the growth of the crop. As the green leaves start to grow, it is traditional to ‚Äėearth up‚Äô. You rake up the surrounding soil to create a ridge along the line of the potatoes. It is to stop the light from reaching the top few potatoes that might show above the soil. Otherwise, they turn green and become inedible. Our ‚Äėearthing up‚Äô involves us putting a circle of well-rotted manure around the plant on top of more soil and then applying another layer of mulch. This feeds the plant at the same time in our sandy soil. Potatoes will benefit from a liquid feed very couple of weeks if you can get round them all. Pinch out the flowers as they appear to increase your yield.

To harvest, lift First and Second Earlies as you need them, starting from perhaps May or June. These are the traditional boiling potatoes, think of those tiny Jersey New potatoes we eat with a crisp salad on a summer’s evening.

Maincrop potatoes, our nice, big, baking ones, should be ready for lifting sometime in July or most likely August. Place the potatoes on newspaper to dry, turning them over to make sure both sides are dealt with. Store them in hessian sacks in a dark space. We use our cupboard under the stairs where it is quite cold as well as dark.

We discovered last year that even after all the plants contracted blight (quite late) the potatoes still kept better when left in the ground than stored in our house. We planted so many potatoes that we continued to dig them up in perfect condition into the new year, even after frosts. The leaves had died and gone but the fully grown potatoes still remained. We dug up the last in January meaning we were eating freshly dug up potatoes I had harvested on Christmas Day and Boxing Day morning as well and New Years Eve‚Äôs roast dinners we annually hold for relatives. This year, we will not be digging up the potatoes in a rush, we will be taking them when we require them as the year goes on as I really believe they store better in the ground. As long as you follow crop rotation and ensure that you did up all of the potatoes you plant each year before the new growing season to avoid ‚Äėvolunteer potatoes‚Äô that can harbour blight, then you should be fine.

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Now there are around 4000 varieties of potatoes but we have bred standard, well-known ones, resulting in around 80 types being available in the UK.

Earlies I have tried and loved: Swift, Red Duke of York, Charlotte, Foremost, Epicure

Main crops: Picasso (my favourite for baking with), Sarpo Mira, Sarpo Nero, Desiree, Sarpo Blue Danube

There are of course plenty of others, especially popular varieties like Kind Edwards. Try and test as any as you like Sarpos are popular types as they are supposedly more blight resistant.

In 2013, it was reported that about 368 million tonnes of potatoes were produced worldwide. Two-thirds were for human consumption, the rest divided for animal fodder and use as starch. In October 1995, the potato was the first vegetable to be grown in space.

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Potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, assisting our immune systems as well as many bodily functions. They are considered on of the best sources of potassium (they have more than a banana), vital for normalizing blood pressure and transmitting nerve impulses and helping muscles contract. One medium potato with the skin contributes 8% of our daily fibre intake that may help reduce cholesterol. They are a good source of B6, helping our bodies make nonessential amino acids needed to make various proteins, required for the synthesis of haemoglobin, an essential component of red blood cells. One medium-sized potato provides 6% of our daily recommended intake of iron. Another major component of haemoglobin that carries oxygen to all parts of the body, iron also has a critical role within cells assisting in oxygen utilisation, enzymatic systems, especially for neural development, and overall cell function everywhere in the body. The protein in potatoes is approximately 3g per serving. When combined with another protein source, like cheese or beans, potatoes are an excellent meal for someone who does not eat meat and relies on plant-based proteins.

For culinary purposes, varieties are often differentiated by their waxiness. Floury, or mealy (baking) potatoes have more starch (20‚Äď22%) than waxy (boiling) potatoes (16‚Äď18%). Potatoes can be cooked in many ways: boiled, baked, microwaved, mashed, roasted, fried, made into chips, dried into crisps‚Ķ Personally, I love a good baked potato with a crispy skin, mashed with butter with perhaps some cheddar cheese sprinkled on top alongside a salad, or baked beans, peas or runner beans. Cut in half, microwaves and then at the last-minute placing strips of cheese on top, microwave them again until the cheese has melted and then serving the halfs with baked beans was another childhood supper. Otherwise, I like mine boiled, my brother likes his mashed with butter and a little milk, my sister adores them roasted.

I will be sharing plenty of potato recipes but to begin with, here is one I discovered earlier this year. It was after I had made Red Bean and Potato Moussaka (¬†Books ‚Äď Cookery). One of my favourite parts of the dish were the par-boiled potatoes on top with the melted, browned cheese. I thought that it would be delicious as a meal on its own, like a different version of Potato Dauphinoise. We tried it and it was simple and delicious with either cooked vegetables (warming winter meal) or a salad (light and crunchy summer meal). This can be done with early potatoes or main crop ones cut into chunks.

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Potato Cheese Bake

(Serves 6)

Р75g butter Р900g (1kg) potatoes, peeled and sliced  -300g cheddar cheese, grated                 РSalad to serve with (lettuce, cucumber, spinach, watercress, rocket, tomatoes, radishes, carrots, beetroot…) or cooked vegetables (peas, runner beans, broad beans, boiled carrots, kale, cabbage…)

  1. Preheat oven 200C or put the grill on high.
  2. Bring a large pan to the boil. Add the potatoes and allow to simmer until cooked. To check that they are done, stick a fork into a potato and hold it above the pan. If it slides off easily, then it is cooked. If it remains stuck on, leave it to cook a little longer.
  3. Drain the potatoes and spread a layer over a long, oblong ovenproof dish. Cut the butter into chunks and mix into the potatoes in the dish. Scatter a thick layer of cheddar cheese over the top.
  4. Put the dish in the oven or under the grill to cook until the cheese had melted and turned brown on top. Under the grill this will take approximately 10-15 minutes, but keep an eye on it just in case as the time will vary. In the oven, this will take longer, perhaps even up to half an hour. Again, keep an eye on it.
  5. Serve with salad or cooked vegetables.

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