IRELAND'S NATIONAL POTATO DAY
Friday the 2nd of October is Ireland's National Potato Day. Here in Ireland you could say, we have had a love - hate relationship with the humble potato. When I say humble, its certainly not humble in a dietary sense. As the potato is a good source of fibre and nutrients.
Lets take a look at the history of the potato: The origins of the potato can be traced to the highlands of the Peruvian Andes-mountains in South America on the border between Bolivia and Peru. It was in the Central Andes that farmers succeeded in selecting and improving the first of what was to become over time an outstanding range of tuber crops, some 5,000 potato varieties are still grown in the Andes.
It is thought that the potato reached Europe in the hands of returning Spanish explorers around 1570. How the potato was intoduced into Ireland is not precisely known, however Sir Walter Raleigh planted them at his Irish estate at Myrtle as early as 1589. An amusing account is also suggested that the potato was washed up on the shores of Cork after the wreck of the Spanish Armada.
Initally it was used as a supplementary vegetable by all social groups. Eventually for the poorest of society it replaced other food stuffs and together with skimmed milk or buttermilk it became the main component of their daily diet. Sadly, the lack of genitic diversity, due to the limited number of varieties initally introduced, left the crop vunerable to disease.
The "Great Famine" in Ireland 1845 - 1849 was caused by the potato crops becoming diseased. At least one million died of starvation. Over one and a half million left Ireland. The population dropped from 9 million to little more than 4 million.
Potatoes are the world's fourth largest food crop, following rice, wheat and maize. The year 2008 was declared the 'International year of the Potato' by the United Nations.
Here in Ireland, we have the following potato varieties:
ROOSTER - is the most widely grown potato in Ireland and it available all year round. It has a red skin and it is earier to cook than other floury varieties.
KERR'S PINK - are a traditional maincrop variety. They have a white to pink colour and are flourier than Rooster, more care if needed when cooking. Steaming gives good results.
GOLDEN WONDER - another tasty traditional Irish potato and the most floury potato variety available. Skin finish is rough and russet with pale lemon-cream coloured flesh. As with Pinks steaming may product better results than boiling.
CULTRA - has a white skin with pink eyes and a cream flesh. It is probably the most popular home grown white potato in the country. This potato is slightly waxier in texture with a good skin finish.
HOME GUARD - is the traditional first early potato grown in Ireland. It is normally available from mid May in small quantities with loose fluffy skins.
QUEEN - are a second early potato variety and begin to replace Home Guard in late June. They have a white skin and flesh and a lovely floury texture.
RECORD - is a cream coloured potato. They are dry and floury when cooked and are particularly popular in the Midlands and the West of Ireland for all round use. Availability is from September to mid June.
MARIS PIPER - has a golden skin colour with dry creamy white fluffy flesh of good flavour. They are the variety of potato most liked by chippers throughout Ireland.
ORLA - a new variety developed in Ireland. It has a waxier texture than traditional varieties. It is particulary suited to organic production due to its very high levels of blight resistance and early maturity.
As we have seen from the above different varieties have different qualities. Some are more floury than others. Some just for steaming or roasting. Why not try a few different varieties.
Below is a traditional Irish recipe made with potatoes and curly kale (savoy cabbage:
'CREAMY COLCANNON MASH'
Serves 4 - 6
1kg potatoes, peeled and diced (rooster)
250g savoy cabbage, finely sliced or curly kale.
1 bunch of spring onions, finely sliced.
2 tablespoons of butter.
75ml of milk.
A good pinch of sea salt and black pepper.
Place the diced potatoes in cold water and bring them to the boil, simmer until the potato is tender. (keep a close eye on them so they dont get over cooked).
In another pot cook the cabbage (curly kale) until tender. (steaming is a good way).
When the potatoes are cooked, drain and add back into the pot with butter and milk. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes until smooth and creamy. Add in the spring onion, steamed cabbage (curly kale), sea salt and black pepper and stir with a spoon until combined.