Blame it on my kitchen.
That’s the reply I feel like giving every week when the reminder from Facebook pops up to tell me that likers of The Daily Spud haven’t heard from me in a while. Gee thanks Facebook, but there’s no need to rub it in – I am keenly aware of the fact that spud activity has been somewhat sporadic of late, but I’d like to think that, ultimately, it’s for the greater spud good.
Which brings me back to my kitchen, or current lack thereof. It goes something like this:
Turn left at the green balloons…
Those were the directions given to the taxi driver. It was just as well he said – his sat nav wanted to send him elsewhere, but the balloons clearly marked the location in Comber, Co. Down, of Mash Direct, where, earlier this month, the great and the good of Comber, Belfast and beyond gathered to celebrate ten years of turning good potatoes into better business.
I pictured myself and a capacity stadium crowd being fed personally by Neven, and it seemed like that might be a stretch – even for one of Ireland’s best loved chefs and quite possibly the nicest man in the Irish food business. As it turns out, the crowd was rather smaller – more like 15 than 50,000 – and (get me!) we were lunching in the intimate surrounds of a corporate box, with the breadth of the Aviva as a backdrop, and Mr. Maguire for company (as my sister later put it, I had gone from nought to Neven, and in only five (blogging) years too; jammy was the other description that sprang to mind, which was exactly how it felt to have homemade jammie dodgers à la Neven round off the meal).
If potatoes had personalities, you might describe them as a patient lot. Forget to dig them in autumn and they might surprise you come spring with their belated bounty.
And so it was this weekend. Though the potato calendar may have pointed to planting – and recent Potato Days, such as those at the Organic Centre in Co. Leitrim and at Sonairte in Co. Meath, provided both the spur to sow and the seeds to sow with – it was harvesting that was the name of this Spud Sunday’s game.
Last Saturday was, of course, time for my annual pilgrimage to Leitrim for the Organic Centre‘s Potato Day – which this year featured Dr. David Shaw of the Sárvari Research Trust and John Brennan of the Leitrim Organic Farmers and Growers Co-op. It’s an event which – though we may talk of blight and GM trials – always puts me in a positive potato mood (which, sadly, is more than can be said of the news reported by Suzanne Campbell earlier that same day on RTE Radio One’s Countrywide program, that prices paid to Irish potato farmers this year have gone through the floor, with many facing substantial losses).
On the upside for the state of spuds in Ireland, though, it gave me immense pleasure last Wednesday to see the heroic efforts of Dave Langford and Dermot Carey in building and preserving a collection of 225+ varieties of potato acknowledged with an award from the Irish Food Writers’ Guild (IFWG). It was presented as part of the Guild’s annual food awards, which are based on nominations and voting by members of the Guild (of which I am honoured to be a card-carrying member, so I might, eh, have had some part to play in singing certain potatoey praises). Herewith a little history on what the pair have done, and all for the love of spuds.
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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.