There’s an old wives tale that the gardening season officially begins on Good Friday, that this day, set from the church calendar, is the day to plant potatoes. Tomorrow is absolutely booked up– and scheduled to be rainy– so I started a day early.
Potatoes are odd plants, and last year was the first time I tried them in my garden. I admit that the experiment was spurred by my reading of The Martianlast year. I dare you to read 200 plus pages about tubers in space and not come away with a respect for the plant. I have a few favorite potato recipes that you must check out, if you doubt my love (here and here).
Yesterday I cut old potatoes with one or two eyes per segment and let them sit. This morning, I dug trenches and put them a distance apart. You need the space because, like prairie dogs, potatoes burrow underground. One of the joys of potatoes is discovering them, finger deep, as you root around the base of the plant. My father told me you can “steal” potatoes as the season goes on– taking baby potatoes early in the season for the tenderest and sweetest and letting some mature to tide you through the fall. If you’ve never planted potatoes before, I highly recommend it.
I return to gardening every year for more than the harvest. Gardening is an education in itself. I can feel the accumulation of my successes and failures like tree rings, and it seems foolish not to keep experimenting year after year. Potatoes were my experiment last year, and this year it is seed starting. I bought one of the domed kits from the hardware store and started a few of my veggies from seed. I’m trying peppers, bush cucumbers, and basil this way, so we will see if anything comes from it. Any tips from you who have done this?
This year will be the first season that my son, aged four, can really participate in the gardening process. He helped me pick out the seeds from the seed store (TURNIPS, he exclaimed with glee, as if he actually ate them). My daughter, aged two, is at the reckless but fascinated stage. Both of them enjoyed our annual trip to the farm supply store to gaze at the chicks. God help me if that isn’t my experiment next year….
The garden is coming up, and one item in particular is ready and has been for weeks: chives. If you grow chives, you know that they grow as heartily as dandelions and they are reliably ready early in the season. Chives are a great addition if you’re looking for a perennial, since they’re edible and they make pretty purple flowers (which my three year old likes to gather into onion-y bouquets). Chives can be good additions to garden salads, but I like them especially as a finisher to my favorite potato dish. This recipe, adapted from America’s Test Kitchen, gives you soft potatoes with a crunchy, buttery shell. They take a bit of babysitting (especially near the end), but the payoff is worth it. I like to serve these alongside a roast chicken, since so many ingredients (lemon, thyme) overlap.
World’s Best Potatoes
1 1/2 lbs small red potatoes (similarly sized, if possible)
2 cups water
3 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into single tbsp
3 peeled garlic cloves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbsp minced fresh chives
Scrub potatoes and halve them, but do not peel or pierce them. Place the potatoes facedown in a single layer, covering the bottom of a 12-inch nonstick skillet. The potatoes should fit snugly along the bottom. Add water, butter segments, garlic, thyme sprigs, and salt and bring to a simmer over medium/high heat. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes (or until potatoes are just tender).
After fifteen minutes have elapsed, remove the cover and take out the sprigs of thyme and cloves of garlic. Discard the thyme, but keep the garlic and allow to cool. Mash garlic and combine with lemon juice and pepper. Set mixture aside.
Increase the heat on the potatoes to medium/high once more and, with lid still off, simmer until the water has evaporated– about fifteen minutes. The butter will start to sizzle (you’ll smell and hear it, at this point).
At this point, babysit your potatoes very closely, moving them gently to allow the cut sides to remain down but not stick to any one spot in the pan. The goal is to get spotty, browned cut sides (about 5 minutes). If you aren’t vigiliant, the best parts may stick to the pan.
Once browned, remove the potatoes from pan and toss with garlic/lemon mixture. Add chives just before serving, and enjoy! While this recipe claims to serve 4-6, my husband and I routinely polish it off with just a little help from our two kiddos. A recipe simple enough for weeknight dinner, but tasty enough to impress a dinner guest or two (if you’re generous enough to share).