I would hazard a guess – for those in Ireland and the UK at any rate – that there’s hardly a man, woman or child who has not, at some time, been touched by the life’s work of one John Clarke. Certainly, if you’ve ever savoured a bag of fat, golden, creamy-on-the-inside, vinegared-on-the-outside chip-shop chips, what you’ve eaten owes a certain debt to this unassuming man of Antrim.
To say that Mr. Clarke (1889-1980) was a potato breeder of note is somewhat of a understatement. Though he left school at the age of 12 and had no formal scientific or horticultural training, he was responsible for the development of 33 certified varieties of potato, most of which bear the prefix Ulster, and some of which were subsequently cross-bred to produce varieties very familiar to us: Maris Piper, long the potato of choice for the chipper, is a second generation (or F2) descendant of a John Clarke variety, Ulster Knight, and most of you will have eaten Maris Pipers, even if, at the time, their name was a mite less important than their role as a welcome source of soakage.
John Clarke, Potato Wizard by Maurice McHenry
'Nuff said, just head right this way
Yes indeed, another year has brought with it another Bloom in the Park.
I do think that Bord Bia‘s five-day long festival of gardens and food in the Phoenix Park just keeps getting better and better, though, granted, I might be marginally biased by the fact that this year’s event included a dedicated potato cookery stand (it being a well-established fact that, to make anything better, you just need to add spuds). Ray Moran from Harry’s Bar & Restaurant in Inishowen was on hand to demo a range of potato recipes – including fish cakes, potatoes with pesto and a potato, chorizo and butternut squash ‘risotto’ – all of which can be found in a booklet brought out by Bord Bia and Potato.ie as part of their grand plan to get spuds back onto the Irish dinner agenda (you can download the booklet here).
Ray Moran gets to grips with some spuds at Bloom
While Bloom in the Park may have been the big event of weekend, in truth it was a different kind of bloom that turned my head this week: that eagerly anticipated first potato blossom of the season.
Of the ten or so varieties of spud that are currently bursting forth from assorted bags in my backyard, it is the Epicures – a first early variety popularly grown in Ayrshire in Scotland – that are way ahead on the flowering front. And that, my friends, means that (yay!) it won’t be long before I get to sample the new potatoes underneath.
First of the year, my epicure spuds in bloom
Meanwhile, distracted though I may have been by my potato flowers, I did, of course, go along to see what this year’s Bloom in the Park had to offer.