It was the Markies that caught my eye.
Though there were six other varieties of potato, freshly dug and arrayed for sale at last Saturday’s potato-themed market at Kilruddery House and Gardens near Bray, Co. Wicklow, I was intrigued by these large, clay-covered Markies and wasn’t shy about getting an introduction (always keen to meet new and interesting potatoes, me). It seemed as if Marquis might perhaps be a better name for them, as these were potatoes of a noble size.
A Dutch-bred variety, they, along with the rest of the potatoes there, had been grown by Wicklow-based farmer, John Swaby-Miller. John informed me that Markies had become a much favoured option for chips and I could see why: their large size and long oval shape would make for good chip size, while their reportedly very low sugar levels would result in that sought-after pale golden colour when fried. Though classed as a dry potato, there is, as I discovered later that evening in baked potato form, a little creaminess of texture and good flavour too. If there was a competitor that could square up to Maris Piper in the chip stakes – Maris Piper being long the favoured choice of the fish and chips trade on these islands – then this spud, which was introduced to the UK in 2000, might just be it.
The Markies website (though admittedly biased in this regard) tells you that not only is feedback from the chip trade good but that growers like the potato too, as it can be grown in a wider variety of field types than Maris Piper. It sums things up thus: “Move over Maris, there’s a new chip on the block.” The message for the rest of us, meanwhile, may simply be that varieties do matter – a potato is never just a potato, nor a chip just a chip.
And yet, and yet…
I was also reminded at that same market on Saturday that, no matter what the variety, life in the kitchen is not only about the potatoes that you cook today but about the leftover spuds that you use tomorrow.
Growing up in a family where the cooking of more potatoes than were needed for any given occasion was a matter of course, spuds featured regularly in a leftover capacity – and they do still. Extra portions of plain mash often get made, knowing that there are a myriad ways in which it might be used. As part of the potato theme at Saturday’s Killruddery market, Niall Hill, executive chef at the Butler’s Pantry, showed attendees just how quickly some already mashed potato could be turned into potato blinis – mini potato pancakes with mashed potato, flour, milk and eggs – or into Cashel Blue potato fritters, where scoops of mashed potato mixed with Cashel Blue cheese and chives were tossed in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and briefly fried until golden – it was a simple and elegant idea that went down well with the crowd. Perhaps it’s time for chips to move over, even just a smidge – there’s at least one new dish on the block and a great many more possibilities.