Spuds you’ll like: the first earlies are nearly ready

Allan Jenkins

Our potatoes are growing, purple and metal-green leaf covered over in the trench where magic happens. It won’t be long now. A couple of weeks or so until our primal root crop is ready. Literal buried treasure, unearthing memories of childhood summers and dinner.

Alongside fresh-picked peas and corn, potatoes are maybe the best test of the homegrown veg, eaten on the same day as cropping if possible, still tasting sweet of the soil. Every year as December ends, my thoughts turn to what varieties we might grow, where we will get them and when. I will try to wait for a potato fair, but they are often later than I like.

This year I ordered online for the first time (from the Organic Gardening Catalogue): a kilo each of Red Duke of York and Arran Pilot, both old varieties, both first earlies. There is blight on the site so they have to be in and out fast to avoid the heartbreak of digging up a slimy spud.

They take up greedy space on our small plot, the plants sprawling everywhere – but it doesn’t seem a proper allotment without them. Maybe it is in the DNA, my Irish ancestry, but they are somehow essential. We eat them first for a weekend lunch an hour after they have been dug.

There is an alchemy in garden potatoes. It’s about not knowing how many are there, first lifting them gently with a fork, then rooting around with your hands. The skins, if you like, can be simply rubbed off with your thumb.

We only eat them early. We need the space for another crop. The soil they’ll have pushed through will be soft and prized for something else. Here, the true taste of British summer, a bowl of small boiled potatoes, perhaps scented with mint, to be savoured with the first few peas.

Allan Jenkins’s Plot 29 (4th Estate, £9.99) is out now. Order it for £8.49 from guardianbookshop.com