Are you a Tatie Hoaker?

Are you a Tatie Hoaker, too?

Does that term have you completely foxed?

Here in Ireland, ‘Tatie Hoaker’ is Ulster dialect for potato picker, spud digger, harvester of earth apples. My Irish beloved could probably begin to wax eloquently, singing praise songs to the potato.

To see a patch or field of potatoes in flower is certainly a beautiful grace to the eye. Because we live in a frost pocket I put the First Earlies (Orla) into the polytunnel where we were able to harvest them on 1st June. The Second Earlies are now getting ready for harvest and the main crops will swiftly follow on.  Once the flowers have faded then they are ripe for ‘hoaking.’

When we choose varieties to plant I have two priorities. Are they blight and eel worm resistant? And, are they boilers, chippers, mashers, bakers or salad spuds? You can get a good all-rounder like Desiree. But to my mind you need to make sure you have a good floury potato, one that is good for frying or roasting in oil, and a waxy salad variety.

What I am getting around in a long winded way is that the potato is such a mainstay to the Irish diet still that when you go out for meals they often put potatoes done in three styles on the table – mashed or pureed, chips (the fat deep fried potato that is like a brawny big brother to the French fry), roasties and plain boiled. You can also get ‘garlic potatoes’ which are basically scalloped potatoes with garlic.

Such are the passions surrounding the method of making the Christmas roasties that it nearly rivals the argument as to whether we shall have the Brussel Sprouts crunchy or mushy? (I like them steamed and firm; my beloved likes them mushy. It has been a triumph of diplomacy these last 29 Christmases.)

Roast potatoes accompany the joint. Or do they? Do you cook them in goose fat? Or olive oil? Do you parboil them like the beloved’s sister? Or bung them in the oven raw with garlic and olive oil, rosemary and thyme (my style)?

Which ever way we wind up cooking them, they are the ultimate Irish comfort food. To be able to grow your own is a particular pleasure. To grow them organically you get a better flavour and texture.

But growing them in quantity is a must!

Tony’s Favourite Cheesy Potatoes

This is basically a riff on the scalloped potato but made with an Isle of Man cheese that includes garlic and chives. You could use mature Cheddar and use two cloves of garlic and add fresh chives to get the similar effect.

Butter a large casserole dish.

Using a mandoline, the slicing component on your food processor or on your hand grater, grate thin slices of a floury  variety of spud.

Arrange a layer of slices in the dishes. Toss over a few slices of garlic, a TBSP of flour, a dot of butter and some grated cheese.

Keep repeating this layering procedure. You’ll need a minimum of three layers.

In the final layer do not use the flour but grate over a few breadcrumbs (Crumble a slice of bread or toast – it’ll do!) before grating over the final cheese topping.

Add whole milk to two-thirds full. If you use 1% or 2% fat milk then use slightly less. Cover the casserole with a lid.

Put into a hot oven (350F) for 45 minutes. Take the lid off and cook on for a further 15-20 minutes.

This is a great dinner if people might be late. You just turn the casserole on low and it slowly cooks down in ever more yumminess.

About BeeSmith

I was born in Queens, N.Y, reared in Pennsylvania, did university in Washington, D.C. Then I moved to England for nineteen years. I lived first in London and then in Leeds. After my partner's sister died of cancer in 2000, we decided to take the leap of faith and move to Ireland to be nearer his family. Despite our friends thinking we were mad and feckless, it has worked out. The angels really do look after fools! We have a cottage on an acre and a quarter three miles from where the River Shannon rises. We have a polytunnel to grow vegetables and fruit organically, a small orchard of apple trees and plans to create a sacred space on the land over the rest of our lifetimes. We share our home with two tortoiseshell cats, Zelda and her daughter Zymina, and three dogs, Murphy, Pippin and Cara.