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.
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?
Spuds on the skyline: the view from Dublin’s new city centre rooftop potato patch
It makes for a very different kind of water cooler conversation.
Rows of former water cooler canisters, stacked in pairs, have been re-purposed as potato planters, the lower canisters acting as individual water reservoirs for the ones above, each of which houses a different variety of potato plant. There are 160 varieties in all – sourced from Dave Langford’s heritage potato collection – and which now peep, to varying degrees, above their funky plastic parapets. Stand around these water-vessels-turned-potato-pots for any length of time, especially with Andrew Douglas in the vicinity, and your conversation is likely to be punctuated with words like recycling, upcycling, community, education, employment and urban renewal.
Spuds to make you smile: Mona Lisa potatoes in their Dublin rooftop home