Sunday, December 23, 2012

Digging potatoes

In Tasmania there is something called a pink eye. On spotting a road side sign I originally thought pink eyes were fish. Not so. Apparently they are a variety of potato. Best boiled and eaten with a slab of butter and some fresh herbs. If you want to roast or mash your potatoes a pink eye is not for you. So, variety taken care of, it is now all about how you get them. One option is to buy them. Woolies and Coles count on this. But why buy them when wonderful neighbours grow them and share their harvest with you. We were offered a bucketful....way beyond our requirements...but I still took the opportunity to go and learn how to "dig" potatoes. First you need the right gear. This translates as ditching city footwear for country style work boots. Ok, the pair I borrowed didn't quite fit, and everyone laughed as I revealed my city slicker socks, but a borrowed pair of Blundstones would see me through. Then it was hiking up the hill to the potato paddock, with a Cascade carton in hand. Empty, the recycled carton becomes the perfect receptacle to fill. Once in the paddock we easily spotted the harvest point - the pitch fork sticking out of the ground being a dead give away. Neat rows of knee high plants sprouted like sentries on parade. With so many to choose from it was interesting to learn that you don't just select the next one in line. Rather, you look for the plant that is growing little "tomatoes". Actually called potato "apples", these provide a handy visual signal that the potatoes buried below are ready to harvest. Next step then is to isolate the base of the stalk, and assess where the stalk and earth meet. Then you estimate half a metre out from the stalk and dig the pitchfork into the soil. As you lever the pitch fork down, the earth crumbles open and potatoes are revealed. You shake the excess soil off and gently gather the potatoes into your box. The soil, dark and loamy, just invites you to sink your hands in to feel for any renegade potatoes. There are always one or two sitting snuggly in the soil that didn't come up in the first pull. The incredible thing about fresh pink eyes is that their skin is so soft you can brush it off by hand. Gently applying pressure from your fingers the skin just peels back to reveal, creamy yellow potato flesh. After pulling the plant up and collecting the potatoes you lay the plant down over the dip in the earth and move on to look for more "tomatoes". Then you repeat the process again and again, until your box is full. You leave just enough room in the top to gently tuck in one or two plant stalks to act as a protective cover over your treasure then head back down the hill to the farm house. Dinner sorted. As for me, I recommend Duck River, the best butter in Tassie.

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