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.
So runs a line from the song “The Great Potato Feud” by Pat Quinn of Inis Oírr, which describes a late night bar scene with much heated, and inebriated, debate on the matter of the best potato.
It is, as Rónadh Cox** pointed out in her article in the journal Gastronomica, “a very funny song… above all funny because the idea of a pack of Irishmen quarreling about potato varieties seems ridiculous – but not impossible.”
** I must declare some interest here – Rónadh is my cousin and writing about potatoes, it seems, a family preoccupation.
I was reminded of the song because I had the pleasure of meeting Darra Goldstein this week, Editor in Chief of the aforementioned Gastronomica, who was in Dublin at the DIT School of Culinary Arts & Food Technology to deliver the keynote address at the inaugural Dublin Gastronomy Symposium. It seems a terribly grand title – and it was in the nature of the event that the papers presented were necessarily academic and, at times, esoteric – but at its heart was a group of people, brought together by a committee chaired by Dr. Máirtín Mac Con Iomaire, and whose interests, though diverse, centered on food – that which nourishes and enables us all to simply be.
I was meandering home down the dimly-lit side street, lost in thought, when something caught my eye and I halted. I looked down and could see, around and ahead of me, potato skins mysteriously scattered along the pavement. I glanced around furtively, a Poirot-like curiosity awakened, but could spy no shred of other vegetable matter in the vicinity.
For twenty or so yards, I followed the trail of distinctive pinky-red rooster peelings and stopped at a shabby green doorway. I imagined some unfortunate Hansel or Gretel, compelled to leave behind an identifiable trail, but were those peels leading away from that door or leading me, La Spud, to it?
I scurried on, the mystery unsolved. For days afterward, the trail remained and I wondered about it each time I passed.