Saturday, 29 December 2007
Heritage vegetable review
Potato: Witch Hill
Age: uncertain, but tentatively dated to 1881
Background: Probably originated in the English Midlands. Also known as Snowdrop
My supplier: Organic Gardening Catalogue (microplants)
Pros: a flavour benchmark, good performer, nice looking spuds, early enough to escape blight
Cons: none that I noticed
I've been waiting a few years to be able to review this because I had to buy it as microplants (seed tubers are not generally available for unlisted heritage potatoes like this) and I had a lot of trouble getting the microplants to survive. It's now had its third full season and only now am I in a position to taste the darned thing properly.
Was it worth it?
Witch Hill is generally classed as a Second Early but its significantly earlier than most other Second Earlies. That was a very useful characteristic this year when we had an exceptionally early attack of blight ... it was one of the few varieties which managed to produce a full yield before the lurgy struck.
It did very well in the garden, producing vigorous plants with bright green foliage. My crop didn't flower this year ... it produced a few buds but they soon dropped off. But last year it showed itself to possess very pretty and dainty white flowers. Some potatoes are a bit fickle in this respect and only flower when they feel like it.
The potato itself is very presentable looking, with a smooth goldy-cream skin and near white flesh. It has brown freckles but is otherwise quite smooth and shiny. The shape varies, but is usually somewhere between rounded and kidney shaped. Size is also variable, from bite-size to baker-size. Yields are pretty good for a variety of this age and the skin is much thinner and less chewy than yer average heritage spud.
Witch Hill is good as a general purpose potato because its dry matter makes it adaptable to lots of different cooking methods. It makes exceptionally nice roasties with melt-in-your-mouth softness. It makes smooth lump-free mash with minimal mashing action. It has a shorter cooking time than average potatoes (if there is such a thing as an average potato) but will go a bit mushy if overboiled, so needs a bit of vigilance.
The thing that makes this potato stand out from the crowd is its flavour. It's not easy to put into words, and really I just have to say it just tastes very potatoey. It's got a richness and complexity to it though. Potatoeyness elevated to a higher level of refinement, I guess. And it has a really smooth texture too, which is quite an important quality in a floury potato. Witch Hill is ultra floury, but it doesn't have that coarse dryness you often get in floury spuds. It's the ideal floury spud for people (like me) who normally only like waxies.
Definitely a superior variety and worth seeking out, although it's rare enough that it's a bit of a pain to get hold of.