If there’s one thing I have learned about spuds over the past 6+ years, is that there’s always some new spud thing to learn.
Be it natural curiosity, or because – slowly and imperceptibly over time – I have become attuned to spud wavelengths, or because others, knowing my predilection for all things potato, pass snippets my way, there is, in my head, a steady accumulation of spud stuff. The recent few months – though they may have been largely quiet on the blog front – have been no different.
There was the friend from Mayo who, a while back, asked me to give him a call, if I were not “too busy scratting spuds.” When I rang later, he explained that in the ’70s – and, I’d imagine for many years before that – when farm workers from the West of Ireland would travel to England for seasonal work, locals would say that they were “scratting spuds in Scunthorpe.” Scratting meant digging potatoes by hand – not to be confused with apple scratting, which is the process of grinding apples up before fermentation into cider – but technology and the times we live in mean that “scratting spuds” is a phrase – and an activity – that has fallen into disuse.
WW2 evacuees on a farm in Pembrokeshire, digging potatoes the old-fashioned way, circa 1940
(public domain image from wikimedia commons)
On the other hand, modern times have brought us new ways, not just of harvesting, but of growing potatoes and of bending them to breeders’ wills. An article in the Observer last October told of a Dutch project – winner of an award under the USAID Grand Challenges for Development initiative – which is investigating the possibility of using salt-water to grow potatoes (and other crops).
Quite some months after the fact, I reckoned that it was high time to bring to the ‘net my visit to the Prince Edward Distillery on Canada’s Prince Edward Island.
Though the distillery was not on my official Canadian Tourism Commission itinerary – through whose good offices I had gotten to PEI in the first place – my ever genial and accommodating PEI guide, Grant, kindly acceded to my hopeful requests and – despite a lot of miles and a lack of time – got me to the distillery on the last day of my visit to the island, where I met the delightful Julie Shore, craft distiller and one half of the couple behind the production of Canada’s first potato vodka.
Well, do ya?
18lbs of potatoes in one bottle. Weighty stuff, this potato vodka.
Julie Shore was talking me through the process of making potato vodka at the small Prince Edward Distillery that she established in 2008 with her partner Arla Johnson in Hermanville, in the north east of the island. “Our distillery is about distilling the agriculture here on PEI,” said Julie, “and the number one crop is potatoes. That being said, potatoes are the hardest thing to distill – a potato is 80% water, so it takes a lot of potatoes to make a bottle of vodka. My colleagues look at me like I’m crazy to do it.”
Essence of island agriculture: PEI potato vodka
After some considerable hiatus – blame life, blame whatever distractions you like – there could be no better day on which to return than on this, my sixth blog birthday.
On exactly this day six years ago – and a Sunday it was too – I found a spud in my garden and – who’da thought – a voice to go with it. Since then, I have passed through one potato, two potato, three potato, four, moved through five potato, six potato, and, with any luck, there will, in the future, be seven potato, more.
The potato – a complex carbohydrate for sure.
That was how Pádraic Óg Gallagher introduced proceedings at an event in Gallagher’s Boxty House to mark the launch of last Friday’s National Potato Day. He’s not wrong, either – if six years of writing about the potato has taught me anything, it is that there is a great deal more to the spud than meets the eye.