of bicycle tour maps and new potatoes with mint

Retrogrouch has been in training for a long bike trip, and we’ve been discussing the particulars.  He’s adamant about being old-school, and I’m itching to play with the dehydrator and dry him 10-course meals for the journey, so we have very different plans.  But we agree that he needs appropriate clothing.

So he sends me this film made by the British Transport Film group, an account of the Bicyclists’ Special Touring Excursion to Rugby on May 8, 1955, with a note saying he plans to model his “entire look on these chaps.”

So I watch it… As expected, not my cup of tea.  Bikes, English people, bikes, bikes, trains, bikes, bikes, bike parts, ooh–there’s some tea…and bikkies!, bikes, bikes, healthy young people, bikes, propaganda, bikes, trains, bikes, bikes…then, hello!

“H. H. England, the Editor of Cycling, knows that a cycling tour without a map is like new potatoes without the smell of mint.”

My interest is piqued.  Minted new potatoes! Who knew!? What kind of a British conspiracy kept this delicious secret from the Yanks?  I look it up, thinking the mint would be added raw to the cooked potatoes, but discovered they BOIL the potatoes with mint!  Wow.

So we cycled out (ok, I drove) and bought some local new potatoes called German Butterballs, a yellow, lovely potato, and a head of new garlic, large and well-formed but still with undifferentiated cloves.  With herbs from my garden, it was an easy side dish.

The video itself is pretty interesting — socialism on bikes, sponsored by the railway network propaganda machine.  Bits of history and British imperialism sneak in every so often.  And check out those woolen cycling knickers.

More importantly, however, is the existence of MINTED NEW POTATOES.  I don’t normally steal recipes wholesale, and if I do, I certainly don’t blog about them, but this one was so beautiful and pristine that I couldn’t resist.  OK, I did change it just a teeny tiny bit, by accenting the mint cooking liquid with more chopped mint, and adding both lemon and French thyme, plus their blossoms, to the potatoes.

I don’t know much about the British cook Nigel Slater, other than he seems to be a lyrical writer and a good cook dedicated to the ebb and flow of British seasonal cooking, so you bet I’d like to know more. In this recipe, he boils the potatoes as usual with mint sprigs, then smashes each one in a baking dish, dots the potatoes with an herb and garlic butter, then bakes just until the top is until crusty and browned.

I’d like to think Mr. Slater would approve of my use of local butter, potatoes, new garlic, and herbs.  Not very British, no, but as right as a tour with a map.

Bicycle Tour With A Map Minted New Potatoes

Serves 4 as a side dish.

  • 1 pound new potatoes around the same size, no more than three inches in diameter
  • a handful of clean, fresh mint sprigs (4-5 large ones), two set aside for garnishing
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 T. minced new garlic (not garlic scapes)
  • 1 T. fresh thyme
  • freshly ground pepper and sea salt
  • sprigs of mint and thyme to garnish

Scrub potatoes well without peeling (new potatoes have flaky, thin skins — see image above).  Place in pot and cover with cold water.  Add several mint sprigs, reserving enough to add some to the finished dish and as a garnish.

While the potatoes are boiling, mince new garlic and thyme, then mash into the butter in a small bowl.  Add sea salt and freshly ground pepper to the butter to taste.

Boil potatoes until a thin knife can pierce them easily.  Drain potatoes, discarding mint.

Preheat broiler on high.  Place each potato in a Pyrex baking dish, and smash each one lightly with a fork, so the insides are bared but you can still see the shape of the potato.  Dot each potato with the compound butter, and broil only until top is browned, just a few moments.  If you’d like crustier potatoes, bake rather than broil at around 425 until crustiness is achieved, but I, for one, couldn’t wait, and won’t blame you if you can’t, either.  Garnish with more mint, mint sprigs, and more thyme flowers.

Serve immediately.  Your special excursion train to Rugby is pulling into the station.

One thought on “of bicycle tour maps and new potatoes with mint

  1. Janet 28 June 2008 / 9:14 pm

    Slater’s memoir, “Toast,” is lovely reading; you’d like it. Short vignettes of his childhood and young adulthood, usually no more than a page or two, each one anchored to a different food. I picked it up from a remainder table and enjoyed it tremendously.


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