If you want to see a man get exercised about potatoes, just suggest to Stephen Hennessy of The Boxty Bakers that his boxty slices are like a bit like potato waffles.
The poor man who said as much to Stephen at this weekend’s Taste of Christmas event didn’t realise quite the passion that Stephen has for his boxty slices, a traditional product which he would consider far superior to your typical potato waffle. It is, I would expect, unlikely that the gentleman who made the unfortunate waffle comparison came from Leitrim.
People who hail from that particular neck of the woods, including The Boxty Bakers themselves, don’t need to be told about boxty. Even as the gentleman to my right was being enlightened in the matter of boxty versus waffles, a lady to my left declared her Leitrim connections and chatted with Stephen about her own family’s traditions, which included the use of a nail to punch holes into pieces of metal which were then used to grate the raw potato needed for large boxty batches.
Fine products though they are, however, Stephen still faces an uphill struggle in getting his boxty slices onto the right shelves in supermarkets. “The buyers don’t get it,” he said to me. Ideally, Stephen would like to see boxty alongside the breakfast meats, as it’s an ideal accompaniment to a full Irish breakfast but, even when the boxty slices do make it onto shop shelves, they often sit elsewhere. The supermarket buyers in question, I suspect, are not from Leitrim either.
Of course, if you do manage to find boxty in your local supermarket, or if you should make some boxty for yourself, there are, just as with the potato, a myriad ways in which it can be enjoyed. I topped some of Stephen’s boxty slices with fabulous cold-smoked trout, the latest product from Goatsbridge Trout Farm and, if buyers have any sense, they’ll see fit to find space for this on their supermarket shelves too.
Another product seen at Taste of Christmas and which has already secured some supermarket shelving in Superquinn is the new range of crisps from Keogh’s. Perhaps taking a cue from potato-farmer-turned-crisp-manufacturer Ray Coyle of Largo Foods, which produces Tayto, King and Hunky Dory crisps among others, Keogh’s (who were behind this year’s National Potato Day) are starting to look beyond the basic business of growing spuds. No doubt they have their eye on capturing part of the market that sees 4.2 million packets of Tayto sold here every week.
Their flavours include Dubliner Cheese and Onion (which have a definite onion bite and a touch of garlic flavour), Atlantic Sea Salt and Irish Cider Vinegar (with a good, but not overpowering, cider vinegar tang, though they could perhaps do with a smidge less salt for my taste) and, most intriguingly, Roast Beef and Irish Stout. It’s especially good to see them incorporate other Irish products, such as David Llewellyn’s cider vinegar and The Dungarvan Brewing Company’s Blackrock Stout. I’ll be watching their progress with interest.