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Spud Sunday: One Lumper Or Two?

I appreciate the potato only as a protection against famine, except for that, I know of nothing more eminently tasteless.

From The Physiology of Taste (1825) by Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Ouch!

Perhaps the author’s experience was based on potatoes such as Lumpers, a variety grown in Ireland in the early 1800s. A piece in this weeks Daily Telegraph quotes Alan Romans, author of The Potato Book, who describes Lumpers as “A nasty, wet potato but with a huge yield … No one would eat it today. It gives a real insight into how desperate and determined the Irish were to survive.” And so we were, clearly!

Searching for potatoes (Lumpers, no doubt) during famine times in Ireland - Illustrated London News, circa 1849

Searching for potatoes (Lumpers, no doubt) during famine times in Ireland - Illustrated London News, circa 1849


[image from Vassar College Views of the Famine]

Luckily, tastes (and potato varieties) have moved on, so we can relegate the wet, nasty Lumpers to the history books. In their place is a bewildering array of tastier varieties, though only a fraction are grown for commercial use. Oftentimes, if there’s a specific variety you’d like to try, the only option may be to grow it yourself, if you have the garden space and time. Or perhaps you’d just like to grow potatoes for the sheer pleasure of being able to dig up and, later, devour a dinner’s worth, whatever the variety. I’m certainly in that camp myself. In fact, during a recent conversation with my good friend MGH, she suggested that I should be setting about the business of getting my seed potatoes for this year now. (I should point out that while the G in MGH doesn’t actually stand for ‘Garden’, it should…!)

“Yikes” says I. “I wouldn’t have thought about getting my seed potatoes until March, closer to planting time.”

“Yes” says she, “but if you want to be sure of getting specific varieties, you should be on the lookout now.”

Ah. I see.

Thus far in my potato growing career, I’ve tried Duke of York and Sharpe’s Express – both classic first earlies (meaning that they take a shorter length of time to mature than maincrop potatoes and are ready to lift early in the summer). Both are full of flavour. Duke of York is a great all-rounder with its yellow skin and light yellow flesh, Sharpe’s Express has bright white flesh, smooth pale skin and (if left to mature) very floury texture. I’d happily grow either again. Though maybe I should try something different this year, or really push the boat out and plant a couple of different varieties. Either way, I should get my skates on and start investigating what’s available. One thing is for sure though, Lumpers need not apply!

19 Comments

  1. With a name like Lumper I think I’d pass on it too. Potatoes may not be full of flavor, but what other vegetable lets the accompaniments to it shine as much as the potato? It’s the veg that lets others take center stage. While Brillat-Savarin may have thought it just for necessary calories, I’m glad that the potato was brought back from the New World because its one of my favorites!

  2. I used to think that potatoes had no flavor, but that was when I acquired them for the corner grocery store. I though they were a vehicle to add flavor – lots of gravy or washbi or roasted garlic. But I’ve really learned to appreciate their taste, now that I suscribe to a CSA, and every so often am blessed with some potatoes. Of course there’s never enough, but now I see color in my potatoes where they used to be pasty, along with a taste (really a distinct taste that is very good) that I am not going to hide under spices. I’ve always claimed to love potatoes but I think before it was more the combination of what I added rather than the potato itself. I’m glad you’re out to get the record straight.

  3. Ahhh! A humble exterior that hides a depth of nutrition: chock full of vitamin C, iron and potassium. Of course, I manage to negate all of that goodness when I add butter, cream, salt . . . ! Duke of York and Sharpe’s express sound ever so much more appealing than plain old red and yellow.

  4. I am quite the potato fan, myself. I’m not sure I have access to the European varieties, and I don’t have anywhere to grow them right not. I’d like to try my hand at it, though, when we’re in a place of our own. I like potatoes anyway, from Spartan preparations, to oh-my-god-the-hedonism-of-it-all preparations:D

  5. I love potatoes and love to try all different varieties and experiment with different textures and flavors. Growing your own potatoes sounds like so much fun!

  6. Predictably I purchased my seed potatoes yesterday in my favourite Garden Centre (I’m biased because I used to work there). Availing of the 3 for €15 offer I purchased “Sharpe’s Express”, “Red Duke of York” and another Early I have not tried before – “Home Guard”. Now all I have to do is dig…

  7. You are making potatoes so much more interesting. I am learning a lot! Happy planting!

  8. Lumpers. Now thats a new one. May I ask just how many names do the Irish have for the potato? GREG

  9. Daily Spud

    Monday, January 26, 2009 at 11:29 pm

    gastroanthropologist: I’m certainly glad that they made their way over here from the New World too. Thank you Peru for doing all that initial legwork on the cultivation front!

    Oyster Culture: yes, there’s flavour there alright – having spuds from the garden spoils you in that regard!

    Tangled Noodle: funnily enough, the Daily Telegraph article also notes that there is a legal requirement that British potatoes be sold by name and not colour (I’m not sure if the same applies to Irish potatoes, but, come to think of it, you don’t really see potatoes labelled here as just reds or yellows etc.)

    Jenni: luckily there are plenty of varieties to go around, no matter what side of the Atlantic you’re on, or what preparation you have in mind, for that matter :)

    Natasha: growing your own is a great way to go

    MGH: you’re way ahead of me…

    Lori: thanks, glad to be of service :)

    Greg: I’d have to say that the actual term lumper was a fairly new one to me too; in the general run of things, spuds is term of choice here :)

  10. Ah, I found yet more education…I might could find some usefulness for this variety in a dish, lol

  11. I remember the lumper from college days studing the Great Irish Famine and the descriptions of it were not favourable. It was also considered to be less nutritious than another variety, the cup or apple (I think) that was also grown at the time but it did have a very high yield. Sounds like a perfect candidate for a supermarket potato! BTW, if anyone wants to try out this variety for themselves, the Irish Seed Savers normally have some seed lumpers for sale.

  12. I really adore potatoes! They are just so tasty – and I would love to grow some myself someday when we have just a bit more space. Right now on our teeny tiny porch I have growing tomatoes, peppers, strawberries and herbs….

  13. Okay, I hope you share with us how you grow them. I’ve read you can grow them in a big bucket. And seed potatoes? Do you order them from a catalog or can you just grow any ol’ potato you get from the grocery store?

  14. oh i seriously disagree with the author of the above quote….i love potatoes and they are a must in my kitchen..the handiest vegetable known to humans.

    loved to know tht u share my thoughts :)

  15. I wasn’t much of a spud fan back then, but it has become my favorite food, when I got to know there was a hundred different meals you can do with them. Spud rocks! :)

  16. You’re so lucky to grow your own potatoes. Knowing them closely, learning the speices, dealing with them… Definitely a great chance! I learnt new things about potatoes here, thank you so much.

  17. Daily Spud

    Friday, January 30, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    Chef E: I would trust you to find a use for this variety :)

    Caroline: interesting that seed savers are doing seed lumpers – goodness knows some bright spark could cotton on to the high yield aspect and bring them back into regular production – I somehow hope not, though!

    Jenn: I’m impressed that you are managing to grow that much on your teeny tiny porch – good for you!

    Joie de Vivre: You can indeed grow spuds in a big bucket or barrel, though I’ve never done that as, luckily, I have enough garden space for a veg patch. The seed potatoes I’ll probably get from a local garden centre, though they can be ordered online from some suppliers. You could probably grow something from the potatoes you get from the store but the seed potatoes you buy are really more suited to the task. I’m sure I’ll post more about growing them when it comes time to start putting them in the ground.

    Navita: I don’t think we’re alone in our love of potatoes!

    Alisa: there is indeed no end to the possibilities of the humble spud…

    zerrin: welcome and thanks – and yes, I am lucky enough to have the space and opportunity to grow potatoes and a few other things besides – nothing like getting veg straight from the garden.

  18. I really love potatoes. They will definitely be in my garden this year. I am trying yukon gold and la soda red. Wish me luck!

  19. How interesting! In these days of heirloom tomatoes and apples and everything else (my favorite oranges are even an heirloom variety), you tend to think that varieties from the past must be superior. I guess in some cases they fell off the face of the earth with good reason.

    Back when I used to try to garden, I really wanted to grow a multicolored patch of carrots, but by the end of January everywhere was sold out on the seeds already.

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