At this top of this page, you’ll find a lot of talk about blight (it’s a fascinating topic, I promise). At the bottom of the page, after all the blighty stuff, there’s some information for anyone – but particularly restaurants around Dublin and Wicklow – who would be interested in trying out, and reporting back on, what may well be a new-to-them variety of potato, namely the floury textured Sárpo Axona, a naturally blight resistant variety that is grown with a minimum of chemical inputs, and holds up taste wise too. By all means, skip ahead to that part if you like.
Orange 8. Green 5. Pink 6. Blue 13.
Rather like Mr. Pink et al. in filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s cult crime classic, Reservoir Dogs, the apparently cutesy colour assignments above are anything but. According to a presentation made at the GIY Gathering in Waterford last September by Dr. Ewen Mullins of Teagasc, that little rainbow of titles refers to the different families of blight found in Ireland, and the damage they inflict on a potato crop can indeed be criminal. And while there are a myriad maladies that can afflict the potato – they come assorted viral, bacterial and fungal forms – along with brigades of baleful beasties – slugs, nematodes and wire worms, to name but a few – it is blight that made the history books and blight that is feared above all others; that its Latin name, Phytophthora Infestans, means plant destroyer is no accident. That there has, in the past, been research into its suitability as a biological weapon is not all that surprising either.
And so it is that almost any conversation about potato cultivation comes around, sooner or later, to the topic of blight resistance. Better blight resistance is the chief focus of the continuing (to say nothing of contentious) trial of GM potatoes by Teagasc – you can read more on the ins and outs of that particular topic over here – while the Welsh-based Sárvari Trust, under the stewardship of blight expert Dr. David Shaw, continues – on a wing and a prayer – to develop and promote the Sárpo family of potatoes, which have high levels of natural blight resistance.
Sárpo Axona: one of the blight resistant Sárpo family
Why should you care?
I do apologise. This is long and – for a spud sunday – it is somewhat late, but the gnarliness of the subject matter made it so. Spuds can get quite weighty at times, but I do love ‘em all the same.
1. Three large bottles of Bulmers cider.
2. One 12-pack of Tayto crisps.
3. One box of Rennie’s indigestion tablets.
That’s what the ladies ahead of me at the Centra supermarket counter were buying around teatime on a Saturday evening. I presumed – and who amongst us can resist passing judgement on our neighbours’ shopping baskets – that it was the anticipated ingestion of items one and two that (hic!) had lead to the need for item three. Welcome to a little slice of modern Irish eating.
I was on my way home from a day spent at the GIY Gathering in Waterford – the 5th annual conference of the ever expanding Grow It Yourself movement – and was trying to decide what I made of the day, including the closing panel debate which dealt with the rather weighty question of whether Ireland needs GM potatoes (a subject worthy of carrying its own public health warning: this may hurt your head and you may find certain aspects hard to swallow and/or digest). I eyed up the Rennie’s but decided that it was going to take something a bit stronger to cope with the assimilation of it all.
For some reason, I picture David Shaw, the energy behind the Welsh-based Sárvári Trust, in the beret-topped garb of a WW2 resistance fighter. In David’s case, however, the enemy (and one of Goliath proportions at that) is potato blight and his weapons of choice are the Sárpo line of potatoes, bred to have high levels of natural blight resistance.
Needless to remark, David was not actually beret-clad when I met him at last week’s SPUDS.ie Tastefest (though I daresay a beret would have suited him). What he did display, though, was a resistance fighter’s spirit and determination in the face of battle on two fronts, with the ever-adapting scourge of potato blight on the one hand and the struggle to keep the Sárvári Trust funded on the other. He was eager to hear about people’s experiences with Sárpo potatoes and to share his expansive knowledge of potato blight – amassed during some 40 years of study – with all who were willing to listen.
David Shaw of the Sárvári Reseach Trust: a bona fide blight resistance fighter