So, having spent the last few (admittedly sporadic) posts waxing lyrical on the spuds of Prince Edward Island – a subject with which, I must admit, I’m not quite done yet – it has finally come time to shift focus closer to home – namely to Stradbally in Co. Laois, which plays host to the Electric Picnic this weekend.
Though music may be the big draw for the festival, wander down to the Mindfield area and you’ll find the Theatre of Food, with a diverse program of talks, demos, tastes and debates. And – for those Picnic enthusiasts who actually manage to arrive and get set up by that time – you can catch me (yes, me) opening the weekend’s Theatre of Food proceedings on Friday 29th at 4.30pm with my own little Theatre of Spud, a talk MC’ed by food writer Aoife Carrigy.
I’ll be looking at the place – or places, even – that the potato occupies in Irish food culture, from your Mammy’s boiled spuds, to the devotion that inspires a collection of 200+ heritage varieties of potato, to the all important bread and butter layering of a crisp sandwich. I’ll also be discussing just how many ways we Irish have of describing our potatoes (of which more below).
When I’m done with that, I’ll be wandering off to check out what the Dublin Urban Farm crew are doing with their roving Thank Potato exhibition in the Picnic’s Global Green area. Back in the Theatre of Food, on Sunday 31st at 12.30pm, I’ll be on stage again, in the knowledgeable – to say nothing of opinionated – company of Ernie Whalley, Leslie Williams and Mei Chin, participating in what should be a tummy rumbling discussion on Food in Literature, moderated by Caroline Byrne.
It is, apparently, a matter of some debate as to whether Eskimo languages really have an unusually large number of words for snow, but it is an oft-quoted example when discussing how a language may reflect the environment in which it has developed. We use language to describe what surrounds and affects us, so it seems only natural that the ways in which a language is used to describe a given entity can tell us something of its cultural significance. So it is, I think, with the Irish language and potatoes.
PEI, it’s potato country here – it’s a big part of who we are as an island, a big part of who we are as a culture
Kendra Mills, Marketing Director, PEI Potato Board
The first thing, the very first thing that Grant, my endlessly amiable guide did when I landed on Prince Edward Island – before lunch, before a cup of tea, even – was to whisk me off to the offices of the PEI Potato Board. He explained later that, while he had escorted many visitors around the island, each with their own agenda, I was the first he had encountered with quite such a singular focus on spuds. And I wondered – as a dedicated potatophile might – why that would be, for here on PEI – potato capital of Canada, Idaho of the north – there is an awful lot for the spud-minded to see.
First stop, the PEI Potato Board
There are many things you might find yourself doing on a Saturday morning – being a guest, this past Saturday, of broadcasting legend Dave Fanning on his weekend radio show on RTE’s 2FM was one of the less usual (and, as it turns out, more enjoyable) of those things. I was on the show to talk about these lads:
Chips, and just why we love ’em so
It was a topic prompted by this recent article in the Irish Independent (where I also managed to get my spake in) and, in turn, by no less than the recently held World Chip Championships in Limerick. Though it’s unlike me to miss such a momentous spud event, I did get to meet chip enthusiast Lema Murphy – declared winner of the Champion-Chips with her triple cooked beauties, served with baked bean and bacon sauce and deep fried egg yolk – and who was also a guest on Dave’s show. You can listen back to our chip chat on the RTE radio player, from about 1h 18m 30 in.
And if you were wondering how I could manage to miss such a thing as the World Chip Championships, it was owing to the fact that I was out of the country conducting some international chip investigations of my own…
It would be a slight exaggeration to say that I went all the way to Toronto just to have chips.
In fact (get me!) I travelled to Canada, through the good offices of the Canadian Tourism Commission, principally to visit Prince Edward Island, where they do a very good line in all things spud (and of which you’ll hear more over the coming weeks). However, having taken the opportunity to visit Canada’s biggest city – and ever keen to broaden my spud horizons – I did make a point of having chips (or fries, to use the local lingo) when I got there. Not just any old fries, though, but that particularly Canadian creation, poutine.