For those attentive souls who have noticed some longer than usual absences in Spud Sunday reporting of late, let me just say that housing – and, to be specific, the buying, the moving and the shortly-to-commence renovating of a new Daily Spud abode – is playing havoc with my attention to all things tuber.
Still, with the approach of spud planting season, there are a few items worthy of some attention:
Firstly – and following my brief appearance on RTÉ’s recently aired episode of Gliondar, which followed the fortunes of participants in West Kerry’s Spud-Off Mór – it came to my attention that the event in question is not, in fact, the only Spud-Off in town.
I was contacted last week by Nick Moyle, one of the gents behind Two Thirsty Gardeners – a UK-based gardening and home brewing website – about none other than their Great British Spud Off (which I shall hereafter call the GBSO, just because I can).
Theirs is a different take on going spud-to-spud. Whereas the Spud-Off Mór was about comparing spuds on the basis of taste and texture, the GBSO rates the size of your yield from a single spud. To be more specific, take one container of your choice, one seed potato – of a variety of your choosing – and add whatever soil or compost you prefer. The winner will be the person who produces the heaviest haul and will bask in the glory of being the 2014 Spud Off champ. Simple as that.
Now, despite what the ‘Great British’ tag might lead you to believe, Nick and Rich – the aforementioned two thirsty gardeners – would love to see Spud Off entries from Ireland (or from any other country in the world, for that matter). Enough outside interest and you never know, they might have to rethink the name of the competition. Suffice to say that if you fancy a bit of a spud growing challenge – and a bit of fun – you should check out the details over here.
As if that weren’t enough to get you thinking about getting your spuds into the ground and on their way, the annual potato pilgrimage to Leitrim fast approaches.
This coming Saturday, March 15th, from 11am-5pm, sees this year’s edition of Potato Day at the Organic Centre in Rossinver. It’s an event that’s been on the go since 1996 (and, as such, lays claim to being Ireland’s longest running Potato Day). It will also, on Saturday, be five years to the day since I first adventured up to Potato Day, with nary a backward glance since. I will, of course, make the trip again this year. I could hardly not.
Amongst the other spud heads in attendance will be guest speaker Dr. David Shaw from the Sárvári Research Trust in Wales – expert on all things blight – along with the usual lazy bed demonstrations and seeds aplenty to buy (new amongst the potato varieties on sale will be two blight busters from the Sárvári Research Trust – early main crop Bionica and late main crop Sarpo Axona – as well as Golden Wonder (my tops for roasties) and red-skinned – as opposed to red-nosed – Rudolph). The menu at the Grass Roof Café promises to run the gamut from boxty to bhaji. I’m getting hungry already.
Sure it never rains but it pours. And while that old adage could be applied, literally, to the winter we’ve just had, over the past week, it has also been true of life in the spud lane.
It includes the clip above, for a program which will see me passing across the nation’s TV screens on Mon. Feb 24th (and more of that anon), but it started last Tuesday, with the I.F.A.’s National Potato Conference, and continued with a flurry of media reportage over the following days. Though, sadly, I could not attend the conference myself – there was the small matter of the day job, which keeps me in the spuds to which I have become accustomed – I think that the essence of what was said at the conference echoed the same event two years ago: we need to tackle falling levels of spud consumption and do what we can to promote the potato (because, y’know, it’s a damn fine thing to eat, as things to eat go).
The latest development in this respect is a commitment made by various interested parties – the Irish Potato Federation, the Irish Farmer’s Association and Bord Bia – to prepare an application for EU co-funding to support a €1M potato promotion campaign over the next three years, which will reflect the potato’s versatility and health benefits and, if all goes according to plan, stimulate long term consumer demand for spuds.***
We can get so blasé about food these days.
Bread or beans or beef or bananas – from the bleurgh to the bon appetit – it’s just stuff we eat, right?
And when things are a bit Mother Hubbard, we can nip to the supermarket, grab a takeaway or use our nearest ‘net connection to hunt and gather without leaving the couch – point, click, sorted.
So it’s easy to forget that food takes time (beyond the delay between order and arrival of your 16-inch pepperoni special, that is). If you cook, and you do so from scratch rather than bunging a few bits in the microwave, the time-in-food-out equation starts to look different, with more time spent often balanced by greater value placed on the end result; even more so if you grow or rear any of the food involved (spend months defending your patch of green from garden invaders and you savour the survivors greatly). It’s the kind of premise on which the Slow Food movement was built and which gets GIY-ers going in their gardens.
And all from my cup of tea.
So ends the ‘Madeleine episode‘ in Marcel Proust‘s novel, Remembrance of Things Past, where, upon having a bit of cake with his cuppa, the bould Marcel is put in mind of an earlier cake at an earlier time, and waxes lyrical and long, over the seven volumes that it takes him to complete the novel, on involuntary memory – those things that trigger recollections without conscious effort. (***)
Now if you are curious as to how I plan to get from Proust to potatoes – and I did wonder about that myself – do bear with me. It will take a lot less than seven volumes, and it also starts with a cup of tea.
Get a load of those zeroes, man.
I’ll bet there aren’t many of us who would object to such a nicely rounded addition to their bank balance. Especially when all they would have to do in return, more or less, was come up with a new, winning flavour for a packet of crisps. No illegal activity required or anything, like.
You would, unsurprisingly, have to compete against a great many others in this endeavour – millions of them, perhaps – but still, worth a shot, eh? A possibility that comes with that many zeroes attached is – much like a newly opened packet of crisps – hard to resist. And you would certainly figure that I, in my daily spudness, would be all over it. Except, the thing is, I’m not.
I started reading Rachel Laudan’s Cuisine & Empire the other day. It is, as the title might suggest, epic in range, tracking the spread of key cuisines across the globe in what is a broad, sweeping history of cooking.
A dense, scholarly tome – think small fonts, few pictures, and reams of references – it’s not what you’d necessarily want to skim through over your morning cornflakes but, to be honest, its solidity and substance make a change from the day-to-day scatter of information delivered and consumed in tweets and sound bites. And despite ranging across countries far and centuries wide, it brought to mind something closer to home – a visit I made in December to Higgin’s Butchers in Sutton.
As I sat down to write this, I got a distinct feeling of déjà vu.
Sure enough, as I looked through my back catalogue, a post written this time two years ago features a white winter soup with potato and celeriac, and words about the kind of simple food we want to eat in the aftermath of the Christmas season. Yesterday, history repeated itself and I made a similar kind of soup for similar kinds of reasons. Not exactly the same – life never is, quite – but, nevertheless, it fulfilled the same, warming purpose.
So here it is, the first post of a brand new year. It’s lean and it’s mean, in line with the convention that dictates an end to seasonal silliness and a return to more subdued, slimline selves. Under normal circumstances, this entry would have been preceded by one of those big annual review type posts, bridging the gap between Christmas roastiness and January resolve, but the turn of the year brought a turn of events that dictated otherwise, so I will briefly summarise 2013 thus: I wrote, I spoke, I travelled, I judged, I cooked, I ate, I pickled, I fermented – and all in the name of the spud.