14 Mar 2013

My Cherie Amour - Potato Day at the Garden Museum

Bill and Ben potatoes
I'd show you my spuds but, really, they all look the same. 

Last year's potato harvest was a bit pathetic (Charlottes, Roosters and Blue Danube moochers) and, given that I'm content to eat Vivaldi potatoes from Sainsbury's, I decided not to grow potatoes this year ... then I read Anna Pavord's article 'Ace of Spuds', one of the chapters in her book 'The Curious Gardener' (an excellent read, btw). Her descriptions of 'old potatoes' piqued my interest; to quote:
"As well as tasting better than you had ever imagined a potato could ever taste, many old varieties have blessedly strong constitutions. In the slap-happy, spray-happy post-war years, this was not valued as much as it perhaps is now, when the effects of eating poisons for lunch are beginning to be more clearly understood."
"Tasting better than you had ever imagined a potato could ever taste ..."  Hmmm.  As I read on, I started mentally to clear a space in the veg patch for some heritage varieties. There's nothing wrong with supermarket potatoes but I was enticed by the thought of growing the right potato to fit the recipe - and with superior (hopefully) flavour.

I'd been handed a Pennard Plants leaflet at the recent RHS Plant and Design Show; it described their 87 varieties of heritage potatoes and their forthcoming appearance at Potato Day.  I'd also noted that Potato Day coincided with Mothers Day; I reasoned that constituted a good enough reason to go out and treat myself to a few tubers if ever there was one.  The 87 varieties on the leaflet were reduced to about 50 on the day; even so, I deliberated over my choices as I like potatoes to be mashed, roasted or baked. I'm not keen on boiled, unless they're the little salad potatoes.  I finally opted for two old British spuds:
  • Arran Victory - 1918:  A rare, blue-skinned, maincrop potato with superb flavour. I'll use this one for roasting and mashing.
  • Foremost - 1954. A first Early with waxy flesh and excellent flavour. Use for salads, baking, roasting.
Plus two more that I'd not heard of before but sounded very interesting:
  • Linzer Delikatess  - an Austrian second early; recommended to me by Pennards.  Like a Charlotte but longer, thinner, smoother. Keeps well.
  • Vitelotte - 1850. A potato with dark purple skin and purple flesh that keeps its colour after cooking. Although I'm a bit hesitant about the idea of eating purple mash, I thought this would go nicely with my purple Cosmic carrots! A main crop potato, grown in France as a gourmet delicacy but originally from Peru and Bolivia. Full bodied flavour reminiscent of chestnut.  Will make very interesting chips or salads.
The potato that I absolutely had to have was this one:
  • Cherie. Allegedly a very pretty deep rose pink salad variety from France; a First Early which gives exceptional crops of oval yellow fleshed tubers with a wonderful flavour.  Now doesn't that sound delightful?
So much for not growing potatoes! I came home with a several tubers of each of the above varieties - at 20p per tuber, it seemed a taste challenge not to be missed.  Although, in hindsight, I may have picked my spuds following my (largely unsuccessful) method of backing a horse in the Grand National, i.e. it has a nice name.

Pennard's stand
Pennard's stand, sited under an art installation of 3,000 hand-wired roses.

13 comments:

  1. Ha ha - so much for your resolve. The only one of those that I grow is Foremost it is really tasty but you don't seem to see it around as much as you used to. I am growing King Edwards, Desiree and Charlotte this year - all good 'doers'. I suspect if I had been with you at the Potato Day I would have succumbed also.

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    1. Oh, I know ... but resistance is futile! I've been the same with seeds ... spread them all over the floor yesterday and thought about the weeks of sowing ahead of me!! Nice to know that you find Foremost tasty - I must admit I didn't look elsewhere for my potatoes so have no idea who else might stock them. It was nice to be able to pick the amount I wanted rather than opting for a sack of 5 or 10 to be delivered. Now I just have to find the time to plant them, once chitted!

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  2. Hilarious! And I am resolutely NOT following up on Pennard Plants etc, having already resisted the temptation to grow blight-resistant potatoes developed by the Sarvari Trust because they are based near here in Bangor, because I HAVE NO ROOM! Really! I am already having to plan a land-grab to build a new bed, because I am planning half an allotment plot's worth of growing on about half of that... But I will look forward to reading about your experiences, because if I do succumb again next year it will be because you just can't beat the taste of home grown spuds of a kind you just can't buy, even in Waitrose... Perfect Mother's Day present to yourself.

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    1. Yes, I was very naughty caving in to temptation like that! Someone mentioned growing potatoes in tubs, you could give that a try next year! I rather like that they're so easy to grow. In fact Anna Pavord writes that she successfully grew some potatoes by mistake when her grass cuttings got mounded over the top of a tuber - which of course made them very easy to 'dig up'!
      Don't be hard on yourself about the Sarvari Trust potatoes, I was told that the flavour of the Sarpo spuds is not as good as these heritage ones but then you gain on the blight resistance. Something to bear in mind for future years ... :)

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  3. It'll be interesting to hear what you think of their taste. I'm growing Arran Pilot for the second year, I was really impressed with them last year. I've also got some Anya's which are new to me, so I'm looking forward to tasting them.

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    1. They're all new to me, Jo, so I'm really excited about growing these. Nice to know that Arran Pilots are another good potato to look out for. It will be good to read about how you get on with your Anya spuds - if we can ever get any veg in the ground with the weather being as it is!

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  4. I think that it's always worth growing potatoes, even if it's just a few earlies. Interestingly Foremost is one of the varieties on sale at my horticultural trading shed but is the slowest seller. In view of what Elaine says, and providing we do them next year I may well try some. I look forward to seeing how your other varieties do.
    Flighty xx

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    1. I'm intrigued now, Flighty, as to why Foremost is one of the less popular varieties on sale at your hort shed. In the end, it's all a question of taste so I'll definitely be reporting back on how I find them, pest resistance, taste, etc. They're certainly all chitting quickly so I hope for a break in the weather in order to plant at the beginning of April. xx

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  5. Your choices include two that I am growing this year. I had decided I wouldn't grow potatoes here, I don't even use that many but I was tempted by an offer in my local suppliers. Three different varieties for €22. But there were quite a lot of each kind. I issued a challenge to my good gardening friends so we all shared the packs. I am going to experiment with the idea of growing them in sacks! So the challenge is how many kilos of potatoes to the sack? The varieties are: Ratte, Cherie and Vitelotte Good luck with yours. Christina

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    1. What a great idea to share the packs between friends, Christina! It makes the bargains go further and creates a lot of good will.
      I asked the experts about the growing ratios as I also grow a few potatoes in patio bags (cleaner for the kids to dig for spuds when they're ready) and was told:
      "3 tubers to a pot/sack/bag and overall about 30 litres of soil."
      Sit the potatoes on about 4 inches of soil in the bottom of the sack, cover them over with another few inches of soil and water. Keep covering with soil as the leaves grow through; this encourages more potatoes to form. Don't forget to water if the weather becomes dry!
      I hope you enjoy growing your own spuds!

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  6. Here in Ireland we are under threat of our government allowed GM potatoes to be planted in Co. Carlow. Sarpo Mira is a good blight resistant variety.
    Bridget.

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    1. I think it's important to think of these things, Bridget. I haven't suffered blight on my potatoes in previous years although one of my tomatoes got it the year before last. It's so frustrating to nurture a plant for many months only to lose it before you reap the benefits. If you're growing potatoes this year, I hope that they're successful for you.

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  7. Some truly interesting points you have written.Helped me a lot, just what I was looking for :D.

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