The Daily Spud

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Spud Sunday: Ancient Spuds, Modern Threats

Can it really be a year since my first, momentous Potato Day experience? A whole year since I travelled the picturesque byways of Leitrim to the annual celebration of the humble noble tuber at the Organic Centre in Rossinver? Apparently, yes, it was time to pack my bags and head west again.

Digging Lazy Potato Beds

Old Irish Lazy Beds: potatoes planted on the ground and covered with sods sliced from either side

The event makes for a worthwhile excursion if you are of a mind to plant potatoes or are generally interested in the how of spuds. They had around 20 varieties of seed potato on sale, advice for gardeners on dealing with the curse that is potato blight, demonstrations of old-style lazy bed planting, a potato-heavy menu at their cafe and, of course, the irrepressible Dave Langford with his collection of heritage potatoes. 100+ of his varieties were on display, along with a new and absorbing addition…

The Original Wild South American Potatoes

Above is the description accompanying a large display panel that Dave had sourced from the International Potato Centre in Peru. It sports replicas of the many fantastical shapes and colours of the original subspecies of wild potato from South America, all thousands of years old and most, if not all of which are still grown there.

South American Potatoes

Ancient South American Potatoes: the Yana Puma Maki (top left) translates as Mother-in-Law's tongue, proving that bad press for Mothers-in-Law is nothing new!

As we chatted, Dave gently tut-tutted my acquisition of seed potatoes from England (though he followed that up with an enthusiastic enquiry as to what I varieties I had scored). In his ever generous manner, he offered me my choice of seeds from his heritage collection. I came away with a precious cargo – one seed each of Champion, Bloomer, Flounder, Linzer Delikatess, Anya, Ambassadour, Bonnie Dundee, Étoile du Leon and (the one variety you might just recognise) Idaho.

I still mourn the loss of the seeds that Dave gave me last year, which fell victim to the slug barons, so I’m hoping for better luck with this lot. There is, however, a new and greater enemy to fear:

Blue 13.

Not some sci fi flight of fancy but a blight so virulent and aggressive that it has resulted in some producers just pulling out of potato production altogether. First found in the UK around 2005, it has made its way to these shores and puts older forms of blight in the ha’penny place. Apart from the new sarpo potatoes, even varieties that normally show good blight resistance are succumbing to its deadly charms. Between that and the grim news that the European Commission has sanctioned the planting of GM potatoes across the continent, it was clear that the ancient spud is facing some very modern challenges.

14 Comments

  1. I do recall the terrible fate of your precious seed potatoes from last year (cursed slugs), so here’s hoping for a better spring with these promising new ones. That Blue 13 sounds like a nasty piece of work – hopefully, it’s shadow won’t darken your potato beds. As for those ancient Peruvian examples, I love those really knobby ones that look like grape clusters while the MIL’s Tongue looks positively freakish!

    Sounds like another fun, informative and successful Potato Day!

  2. I love all sort of potatoes & here are a couple I haven’t seen before,…
    Potato day,…I haven’t heard from it before,..sounds like fun!

  3. How cool is this post?!! Fun to see all the different potatoes. Have a great day – cheers!

  4. You make potatoes so interesting. Not that they weren’t before, but you highlight them in a way that makes me want to try each and every variety available. I’m in the planning stages of a garden, hopefully one that will last for years to come. I need to do some serious thinking about potatoes. Best of luck with this years crop!

  5. Daily Spud

    Monday, March 15, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    Tangled Noodle: Blue 13 really does seem to be striking fear into the hearts of even the most experienced potato growers – I really hope that I manage to avoid meeting it in person

    Sophie: well I had a fun day anyway and did meet several new varieties of potato myself :)

    the wicked noodle: thank you – have a great day yourself!

    Lori: Thanks and good luck with planning your garden – I’m sure that you will get lots of good advice from your Dad! Hopefully you will get some potatoes in there sometime – they’re actually quite a good thing to plant if you have ground that hasn’t been cultivated in a while, as they help to break the soil up, as well as being a tasty thing to pull out of the ground :)

  6. Ha ha – love that Mother-in-Law’s tongue variety! (Not that I have anything against my MIL – I just appreciate the humor!)

    We had a blight last year that killed nearly all of the organically grown tomatoes in the region and some of our potatoes, too, so I feel your blight-pain. Good luck this year!!

  7. This looks like a really fun trip, and informative too. Unfortunately the Spouse has vetoed any potatoes for our garden this year, he doesn’t feel we have the space :(

  8. That actually does look like my MIL’s tongue ;) Love the rainbow variety of South American potatoes, especially the bulbous purple varieties (do those happen to translate to Father-in-law’s nose? Bad daugher-in-law, bad!)
    Best of luck with your heritage potato crop this year! I’m totally ‘rooting’ for you (pun intended LOL)

  9. I’ve NEVER seen such a wide variety of potatoes! I’d heard rumors….oh, it’s more wonderful than I imagined. Here in the US, I’ve maybe seen 4 varieties of potatoes in my lifetime. It’s sad, sad, sad.

  10. Another another great potato adventure. the choices are mind boggling. The results will be steallar this year I just know it! GREG

  11. My St Paddy’s day post is up…..http://www.kitchenbutterfly.com/2010/03/14/march-on-risotto-with-the-daring-cooks/

    And love the variety of tatties…..some look a bit scary!!1

  12. hi Spud!
    our paddys day recipe for Whiskey Cake is now up on our blog here:
    http://lola-luskitchen.blogspot.com/2010/03/jameson-whiskey-cake.html

    hope you like it!

  13. Daily Spud

    Tuesday, March 16, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Valley Writer: I think there are a lot of people worried about blight here this year and, of course, it can affect tomatoes too, so fingers crossed that it will be a dry summer which would at least minimise the chances of blight spreading

    Fearless Kitchen: Spuds can indeed take up a bit of space if you’re growing them yourself – though maybe you could get away with planting a few seed potatoes in a bag or barrel? I’m thinking of doing that with some of mine this year.

    Phyllis: Father-in-law’s nose – love it! I just hope for your sake that your in-laws don’t read this blog, lol

    Joie de Vivre: You are not alone – most people only ever see a few varieties of potato when, in fact, there are thousands of them out there!

    Sippity Sup: I’m certainly hoping for some good results – will of course be reporting on same.

    Kitchen Butterfly: Some spuds can be scary, lol! And thanks for the entry – love the look of those arancini.

    rayne: (or should I say Lola?) – thanks a mill’ for the whiskey cake, can’t wait to dig in :)

  14. Most of these potatoes are foreign to our market of course, so this is pretty cool to read.

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