The Daily Spud

...there's both eatin' and drinkin' in it

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Spudless Sunday

Those who have read this blog over the years will know that I have written about the Dave Langford/Dermot Carey heritage potato collection many times.

Their 225+ varieties of potato, including many rare, old varieties of Irish interest which, for many years, they have displayed and spoken about at events countrywide, have made for a wonderful educational resource, a living history and an important part of our food heritage.

This past weekend I learned of an incredibly severe blow to the collection, a too-harsh lesson in the fragility of preserving old and rare varieties and of not better supporting the people who do that important work for us. While all is not entirely lost, there is much that is, and a challenge has been set for those who really believe that such things are worth preserving.

For the past six years, mid-March has been writ large in my calendar. Not, as you might imagine, because of St. Patrick’s Day in all of its greenery but rather, because it is at or around this time of year that the Organic Centre in Rossinver, Co. Leitrim, hosts its annual Potato Day.

Potato Day Sign

It’s an event presided over by Hans Wieland, and a time for people to stock up on seeds for the coming season, to get advice from expert growers, and to hear talks on subjects of interest to the gardener of potatoes, be it on the importance of soil (the subject of an excellent presentation given this year by Trevor Sargent) or on GM or blight resistant spuds, or even a spin through the latest in spud developments from around the world (which was my contribution to this year’s event).

And ever-present, every year, has been a diverse display of potatoes – the rare, old and unusual spud collection that has been amassed, maintained and nurtured over a great many years by Dave Langford, and ably assisted in that task for the past 8 or 9 years by master vegetable grower Dermot Carey.

potato display

From my first Potato Day excursion in 2009:
what was to become the familiar sight of varieties from the Langford/Carey collection on display

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Spud Sunday: Salt, Butter & Scratting Spuds

If there’s one thing I have learned about spuds over the past 6+ years, is that there’s always some new spud thing to learn.

Be it natural curiosity, or because – slowly and imperceptibly over time – I have become attuned to spud wavelengths, or because others, knowing my predilection for all things potato, pass snippets my way, there is, in my head, a steady accumulation of spud stuff. The recent few months – though they may have been largely quiet on the blog front – have been no different.

There was the friend from Mayo who, a while back, asked me to give him a call, if I were not “too busy scratting spuds.” When I rang later, he explained that in the ’70s – and, I’d imagine for many years before that – when farm workers from the West of Ireland would travel to England for seasonal work, locals would say that they were “scratting spuds in Scunthorpe.” Scratting meant digging potatoes by hand – not to be confused with apple scratting, which is the process of grinding apples up before fermentation into cider – but technology and the times we live in mean that “scratting spuds” is a phrase – and an activity – that has fallen into disuse.


Scratting spuds:
WW2 evacuees on a farm in Pembrokeshire, digging potatoes the old-fashioned way, circa 1940
(public domain image from wikimedia commons)

On the other hand, modern times have brought us new ways, not just of harvesting, but of growing potatoes and of bending them to breeders’ wills. An article in the Observer last October told of a Dutch project – winner of an award under the USAID Grand Challenges for Development initiative – which is investigating the possibility of using salt-water to grow potatoes (and other crops).

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Spud Sunday: Masters Of Coddle

“It’s like Marmite,” said one of the judges, “people either love it or hate it.”

Coddle, that is. Rare ould Dublin coddle. And the judges in question – myself, food and wine writer Leslie Williams and Sunday Business Post editor Gillian Nelis – had been called upon to adjudicate at what was surely a rare ould Dublin event: a Coddle Cook Off.

For those who don’t yet know enough about the dish to either love or hate it, coddle is a one-pot, throw-it-together wonder. Sausages, rashers, onions and spuds, left to simmer together on the stove for hours of a Saturday evening, becoming post-pub grub for the household’s imbibers. Perhaps it’s the idea – and the anaemic look – of boiled sausages that puts people off coddle. Why boil when you can sear and sizzle, eh? And yet, as the entries in last week’s coddle competition in Temple Bar showed, a brothy boiled sausage is no bad thing.

The competition – which raised €1000 for Epilepsy Ireland – was the brainchild of Kevin O’Toole of Chameleon and Pádraic Óg Gallagher of Gallagher’s Boxty House, and was held in conjunction with the inaugural Temple Bar Taste Trail – where punters could sample bites from any one of 10 Temple Bar restaurants – during the Temple Bar TradFest.

Coddle Cook Off Chefs

All’s jovial with the Coddle Cook Off Chefs before competition begins

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