“Potatoes: More than a bit on the side”

Hans Wieland reports on the revival of the humble spud

Well I am not only bi-lingual, I am also bi-spudial, meaning I enjoy waxy and floury potatoes. Having left Germany behind in 1985 in the knowledge that I would probably never again eat Sieglinde, the potato I grew up with and Bamberger Hoernchen, the potato I came to love most, one of the first horticultural activities I got involved in in Ireland was growing a field of potatoes with two neighbours. We grew Roosters and Golden Wonder.

Potatoes in space, on rooftops and as part of a healthy diet

The Irish government has reported that there has been a 25 percent fall in the amount of potatoes sold in Ireland over the past ten years. And while NASA and the Peru-based International Potato Centre will start cultivating potatoes in Mars-like conditions on Earth, with the hope of eventually building a controlled dome on Mars capable of farming the ancient crop,  blue potatoes are now being grown on the roof of JFK airport in New York. Back down to earth Bord Bia, along with the Irish Potato Federation and Irish Farmers’ Association and in conjunction with the Potato Council in the UK, have received EU funding for a 3 year potato promotion campaign launched officially last October sporting the tagline: “Potatoes: More than a bit on the side.”

Potatoes are super healthy vegetables, there is no question: They contain five times less calories than rice or pasta and have twice as much protein than wheat. They supply us with important minerals like Magnesium, Iron and Phosphorus and they are higher in Potassium than bananas. Their starch content is very filling, so potatoes can prevent over eating  and are highly suited to a healthy and balanced diet. Did you know that floury potatoes are higher in starch than waxy potatoes?

Potatoes are part of a worldwide culinary heritage

In Germany, the potato is a king of foods and in the region I come from, Franconia, the knobbly, horn-shaped potato, ‘das Bamberger Hörnchen’ is a precious ingredient, that has survived because of the region’s grow-your-own culture and now commercial growers have pledged to grow the ‘Hörnchen’ on a bigger scale.

In Ireland with 540 growers the bulk of the potato crop is grown by about 200 and only 15 produce salad potatoes. I believe the downward spiral of potato consumption is coming to a halt and according to Kantar, a retail-analysis firm, once every 0.6 seconds someone buys potatoes in Ireland. And weren’t there crisp sandwich cafes popping up in Belfast and Dublin?

Something I see in my work at The Organic Centre is the renewed interest in different varieties and a trend in gardeners growing more Earlies like Orla and Casablanca and more blight resistant varieties like Bionica, Setanta and the Sarpo family of Mira, Axona and Blue Danube. 2015 a display of 140 varieties of potato won gold at the Chelsea Garden Show.

The beauty of growing your own potatoes lies in the versatility from growing in lazy beds and raised beds to container growing, from growing under mulch of straw and even black plastic to two crops of Earlies in polytunnels. Potatoes are eminently suitable for No-dig gardening!

Potatoes are national culinary delights!

The Potato is one of the main ingredients in many national signature dishes around the world: Gnocchi in Italy, Tortillas in Spain, Moussaka in Greece, Baked Potatoes in USA, Kartoffelsalat in Germany, Gratin Dauphinoise in France, Roesti in Switzerland, Alu Pakora in India and in Ireland in Stew, Boxty and Colcannon.

It is easy to cook with potatoes every day of the year without using the same recipe twice. They can be combined with nearly all herbs and spices, Nutmeg being the classic, and can accompany meat and fish or be stand alone vegetarian highlights.

Wedges are a secret weapon to get children to eat more big, old-style potatoes. At home we roast them on a really high heat. They cook in the same time it takes to cook frozen oven chips. Don’t fall for washed baby potatoes, farmers have to plant twice as much seed potato, and their crop can be rejected if the “skin finish is not right”.

The 22nd Annual Potato Day at The Organic Centre is on Sunday 11th March from 12-5pm.


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