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Tag: John Swaby-Miller

Spud Sunday: The Potato Pickers

Row of potatoes

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.

The fruits of our picking labours – packed in attractive 5kg hessian sacks – will be for sale from Dec 13 up until Christmas at the following Dublin locations:

Craft & Design Christmas Pop Up Shop at Block T, Smithfield, open Dec 12 – 15 & Dec 19 – 22 from 11:30am – 18:30pm, late opening Thursdays 20:00.

Dublin Flea and Block T Christmas Cracker, Smithfield, December 13-15

The Lilliput Stores Christmas Hamper Market at The Joinery in Arbour Hill from Dec 20 – Dec 23

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Spud Sunday: Move Over Maris

It was the Markies that caught my eye.

Though there were six other varieties of potato, freshly dug and arrayed for sale at last Saturday’s potato-themed market at Kilruddery House and Gardens near Bray, Co. Wicklow, I was intrigued by these large, clay-covered Markies and wasn’t shy about getting an introduction (always keen to meet new and interesting potatoes, me). It seemed as if Marquis might perhaps be a better name for them, as these were potatoes of a noble size.

A Dutch-bred variety, they, along with the rest of the potatoes there, had been grown by Wicklow-based farmer, John Swaby-Miller. John informed me that Markies had become a much favoured option for chips and I could see why: their large size and long oval shape would make for good chip size, while their reportedly very low sugar levels would result in that sought-after pale golden colour when fried. Though classed as a dry potato, there is, as I discovered later that evening in baked potato form, a little creaminess of texture and good flavour too. If there was a competitor that could square up to Maris Piper in the chip stakes – Maris Piper being long the favoured choice of the fish and chips trade on these islands – then this spud, which was introduced to the UK in 2000, might just be it.

The Markies website (though admittedly biased in this regard) tells you that not only is feedback from the chip trade good but that growers like the potato too, as it can be grown in a wider variety of field types than Maris Piper. It sums things up thus: “Move over Maris, there’s a new chip on the block.” The message for the rest of us, meanwhile, may simply be that varieties do matter – a potato is never just a potato, nor a chip just a chip.

Markies Potatoes

Markies potatoes, as grown by John Swaby-Miller.
You’ll find John’s produce at the recently established Saturday farmers’ market at the Tap Café on the N11 in Wicklow and you’ll find his many different potatoes growing right across the road from there.

And yet, and yet…

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