‘Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the ‘net,
They googled for roasties, the best they could get.
Which spud to choose, to avoid roastie blunders?
Roosters or Pinks, Maris or Wonders?
Goose fat or dripping? Oil or butter?
Who reigns supreme, in the smoke and the splutter?
And lo, there’s Heston, Jamie and crew,
All armed with advice on just what to do.
Parboil and ruffle, steam ’til they’re dry,
Then into the oven and roast ’em on high.
Serve with the trimmings, the turkey and ham,
Piled onto the plate in a glorious cram.
Feast yourself silly, with roasties galore,
Crispy and Christmas and here once more.
You know it’s Christmas when…
You’ll forgive, I hope, the indulgence in a bit of cheesy seasonal rhyme. It marks this year’s edition of an event that has become almost as predictable as Christmas itself – the Daily Spud roastie post.
Be really suspicious of a good looking spud…
I knew, once Paul Rankin had uttered those words, that here was someone I could talk to in spud terms.
Scottish-born and Northern Irish-bred, Paul Rankin made a name for himself in the troubled Belfast of the ’80s and ’90s, scoring Northern Ireland’s first Michelin star in 1991 with Roscoff, the restaurant he ran with his then wife, Jeanne.
Cookery books, TV appearances – most recently in the series Paul and Nick’s Big Food Trip, with friend and fellow chef, Nick Nairn – and other restaurant interests followed over the years and, since 2002 Paul has, in partnership with Irwin’s Bakery, lent his name to the Rankin Selection, a range of Irish breads and other products which retail in Ireland and the U.K. (including potato farls, of which more anon). Last March, however, saw the end of an era, when Paul closed the doors of his only remaining restaurant, Cayenne, citing problems caused by the flags protests in Belfast.
Chef Paul Rankin
(image courtesy of Aiken PR)
Unsurprisingly, Paul has a lot to say about restaurants and Belfast and Irish food, and it was my pleasure, a number of weeks back, to chat with him about all of those things, and about Christmas too, and – inevitably – potatoes. He is, as I discovered, a man who is very particular about same.
Spuds in the field: what a Spud Sunday is all about
It can get a bit addictive, can’t it.
So observed one of my fellow potato pickers as the Wicklow light waned and vegetable grower John Swaby-Miller – a.k.a. Johnny English – turned the last row of potatoes at the end of crisp December day. For one Sunday only, our merry band of volunteers had donned wellies and gloves and had plucked and washed rows upon rows of newly unearthed Sarpo Axona potatoes. Now, muddy-kneed and rosy-cheeked, it was time to go home, each toting a 5kg hessian sack of said spuds.
These were the sacks into which the rest of the day’s harvest would be packed for sale in the run up to Christmas, to raise both funds for, and awareness of, SPUDS.ie, the voluntary community research group whose aim – by promoting the use of naturally blight-resistant potatoes, such as Sarpo Axona – is to demonstrate no less than the potential for sustainable agricultural practice in Ireland. SPUDS.ie founder, Kaethe Burt-O’Dea, also hopes to raise funds to support another run of her Crisps with a Conscience, made from potatoes of an unusual shape that are normally discarded. Those who buy these bags of Christmas spuds can be guaranteed some good seasonal eating and a lot of seasonal goodwill.