Spuds with a difference
There’s more to spuds than those found in the supermarkets. Vicki Price talks to one potato grower who knows his tubers
Potato grower Mick Turton credits his great uncle Herbert for teaching him how to successfully grow this popular vegetable while growing up in England.
Since then he has grown them wherever he lived throughout Britain and for the past 15 years or so in New Zealand.
The many soil and climatic conditions have also provided valuable experience, much of it trial and error.
Mick grows organically and has embraced the wide variety of heritage potato varieties on offer, many of which he has sourced through seed saving co-operative Koanga Gardens in Northland.
Mick’s favourite is the Pink Fir Apple. Thought to be Celtic in origin, these pink-hued spuds are not very high yielding but are the best tasting of all, according to Mick, and have been the best potato to grow in both countries he has grown them. But he has never seen them in a shop, even though they are highly prized by chefs.
The Pink Fir tubers are usually long and thin, hence the name, fir meaning man and the colour and shape referring to a particular masculine body part.
They are highly waxy and the longest keeping of all potatoes. They are also pretty much disease- free, the only problem Mick had once was after a dry spring, there was some potato moth damage.
Pink Fir Apples are a main crop variety that taste like first croppers and make a fine potato salad.
Another heritage variety Mick grows is Huakaroro, a deep-eyed waxy potato with a cream coloured flesh. It too is a good keeper and this year, Mick’s plants produced more than two kilograms each. These are a main crop potato grown throughout the main growing season.
Te Maori is good for roasting and baking, and despite its smooth purple skin, has white flesh. Once cooked, the purple colour disappears from the vegetable into the water. Moemoe is another Maori potato and has a cream and purple medium waxy flesh.
Perhaps the most well-known of the Maori potatoes is Urenika which is dark purple throughout, apart from some white patches in some tubers. A favourite of gourmet cooks, it remains purple even when cooked.
Mick has one variety that he has named Mystery, as he hasn’t been able to identify it. It came from an elderly Maori man in Eastern Taranaki, who gave a few tubers to him through a mutual acquaintance. Mystery tubers look a bit like large yams in appearance and often grow in a triangular shape. They have deep eyes, making them look like potato-pincushions, and a white flesh. Mick likes to make wedges with them, by washing then cutting them in half and coating in oil, then adding spices such as curry or garam masala and cooking in the fan grill for around 15 minutes.
Potatoes may come in many varieties, but the plants all look quite similar, except for variations in the flowers. The colours of these range through purples, pinks, mauves and whites with yellow stamens and the colour of the flower can indicate the colour of the tubers below ground.
Special spuds: A selection of heritage potatoes, top row, three many-lobed Pink Fir Apples, bottom row from left, Te Maori, Huakaroko, Moemoe, Pink Fir Apple, Mystery, Urenika.