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
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!
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!