GARDENINGBREAD hunks and cheese, crisps and beer, and leeks and potatoes in a creamy soup — some simple combos are just meant to be.
At this time of year when produce is a bit thin on the ground and the weather is chill, my thoughts often turn to that soup — the great, tasty, winter warmer.
But this year — and I know not why — one of the ingredients is somewhat sparse.
This year, for the first time in many, I bought in my leek plants from mail order specialist D.T. Brown.
They arrived in the summer, in good time for planting, and I popped them in a rich patch of ground as I usually do, kept them moist in their early days and, while they might not have been religiously weeded, which is always a cardinal error, the reward has not been massive.
While the soil was rich and augmented with organic chicken pellets, the leeks were planted in a patch where the soil had been loosened by a previous potato crop.
That is the only other factor I can think of leading to little leeks.
Northern Lights — my chosen variety — looks beautiful but only in a petite way.
The foliage has a most attractive blue-purple tinge, which occurs as a reaction to chilly weather, and they would not look out of place in a flower border. But the girth of most is probably half what I would have expected.
On the positive side, they were not afflicted by rust, which is now an ever-present problem.
I would be interested to know if other gardeners have experienced a similar problem this year with leeks of the same or other varieties.
When it comes to potatoes, my annual pilgrimage to Jubilee Nursery, Newchurch, has been made for my seed spuds.
It is especially useful because you can buy just two for popping in a small sack on the patio if your aim is just a taste — or you can choose the number that fills up a row.
You can also pick by size, weighing up the advantage of large tuber size against cost.
I still 'chit’ them in a tray despite Monty Don telling us it makes little difference to cropping results with all but early varieties.
There is something nice about the tradition, which marks the start of the excitement of preparing for spring.
This year, there are many more varieties at Jubilee, including Sarpo, which is finally becoming mainstream after many years of development from disease-resistant stock.
Several years ago, David Shaw, who has piloted through the Welsh-based Sarpo project, kindly supplied me with some seed potatoes which I trialled and since then they have slowly caught on to the point where commercial quantities are being produced.
But, this year, I have chosen six varieties from Jubilee, including both the new seed and old favourites.
They are:
l Charlotte — second early salad potato favourite, producing moderate yields of uniform, smooth-skinned tubers with a waxy, cooked texture.
Charlotte is susceptible to late blight on foliage, potato cyst nematode globodera rostochiensis and globodera pallida. Tests show resistance to blackleg though.
l Colleen — early variety, which is susceptible to late blight on foliage and blackleg. Tests have, however, shown resistance to late blight on tubers and resistance to potato cyst nematode.
Colleen is very high yielding and a great uniform tuber shape, making it an ideal boiled potato. It is a short oval with yellow skin and creamy yellow flesh and shallow eyes.
Colleen has waxy flesh and is particularly good for baking and chips as well as being an excellent new potato.
l Duke of York — first early with low resistance to late blight on foliage, late blight on tubers, common scab, potato leafroll virus and potato virus.
But it is worth the risk. The oval tubers have moist, yellow flesh of superb flavour.
It is a good all rounder and really excellent for roasting and early summer chips, which my girls always called 'allotment chips’.
There is also a red variant, which looks striking.
l International kidney (also known as Jersey royal) — a very popular second early salad-type seed potato variety in these climes and an early from Jersey.
It is a yellow long oval, which can be boiled, steamed or mashed.
This variety has low resistance to late blight on foliage and late blight on tubers but good texture and flavour make up for that.
l Maris Peer — a second early maturity producing moderate yields of very uniform shape. It has good resistance to many diseases but it is not keen on drought. Slugs especially like them too.
They have a firm cooked texture and are good for boiling.
l Ratte — this is one I have not tried for many years and which I am especially looking forward to.
Unlike pink fir apple and Anya, which are of a similar ilk, Ratte is easier to prepare, being smooth not knobbly skinned.
This classic second early French variety has been prized for more than 70 years for its tasty tubers with a distinctive chestnut flavour.
Ratte produces long, smooth-skinned tubers with white skins and yellow, waxy flesh, which does not disintegrate during cooking. They are delicious steamed in their skins and eaten hot or cold.