One potato, two potato

Country Life Every Week - - In The Garden - Mark Di­a­cono

I’m un­in­ter­ested in play­ing Rus­sian roulette with blight

WITH each year, I grow fewer and fewer pota­toes. It’s not that I’ve gone off them—quite the re­verse —but there are so many other de­lights I want to find time and space to grow and, when you’re a lanky chap of a cer­tain age, eat­ing too many spuds can leave you look­ing like a snake that’s swal­lowed a wheel­bar­row.

So the potato patch has shrunk a lit­tle and I’ve be­come more par­tic­u­lar about the va­ri­eties I give valu­able space to—they re­ally must be ex­cep­tional—and I find my­self choos­ing al­most solely French va­ri­eties. It’s not been a con­scious de­ci­sion, so much as a shift to­wards those with the most in­cred­i­ble flavour and tex­ture.

As you might ex­pect of that coun­try’s cui­sine, th­ese con­sid­er­a­tions are para­mount for why a va­ri­ety sur­vives in France. Whether it’s disease-re­sis­tant or heavy yield­ing is sec­ondary.

If you’re rel­a­tively new to grow­ing pota­toes, you may not recog­nise many of the French va­ri­eties avail­able as seed pota­toes: most are the pre­serve of the home grower. And, al­though Char­lotte and Chérie may be fa­mil­iar as they’re grown com­mer­cially, they are by no means the best.

Most of the va­ri­eties I favour are early- to mid-sea­son ones such as the un­ro­man­ti­cally named BF15 and Cheyenne. I pre­fer th­ese nut­tier, firmer, salad pota­toes to flourier va­ri­eties and I’m un­in­ter­ested in play­ing Rus­sian roulette with blight in sum­mer.

Ear­lies are planted, grown and har­vested be­fore mid­sum­mer, when the warm weather that en­cour­ages blight ar­rives, so you have more chance of a clean crop and, once they’re lifted, the space is freed in good time to plant out cour­gettes, squash or what­ever you fancy in­stead.

Early pota­toes are also the most ex­pen­sive to buy. Grow them at home and you can choose va­ri­eties that have the finest flavour and tex­ture—and you get them cheaply and for lit­tle work. Grow­ing pre­dom­i­nantly ear­lies gives you the best of all worlds.

That said, some later va­ri­eties are just too good not to take the chance against blight. I’d not be with­out La Ratte or Vitelotte, and usu­ally try a cou­ple of tu­bers of one of two oth­ers that take my fancy each year.

You’ll be able to find many French va­ri­eties from nurs­eries on­line, but if you have a chance, I’d rec­om­mend vis­it­ing a Potato Day. Th­ese gath­er­ings ded­i­cated to the mar­vel­lous spud are where you’ll find sup­pli­ers of­fer­ing hun­dreds of va­ri­eties, usu­ally avail­able to buy in ones and twos of each type, which means you can have great di­ver­sity of flavour from even a small patch.

There’s no need to be con­cerned about how well French pota­toes will do in the UK: most have been de­vel­oped to do well in cool re­gions and, hav­ing grown them all here in the rainy South­west, I can at­test to their suit­abil­ity. Here are my favourites. Cherie (First Early) A su­perb va­ri­ety, with beau­ti­ful, deep-rose skin and yel­low, waxy flesh. Per­fect for sal­ads and sautée­ing.

Cheyenne (Sec­ond Early) A new red-skinned, yel­low-fleshed salad potato that can be left in the ground to grow on if pre­ferred.

Ro­se­val (Sec­ond Early) An ex­cel­lent waxy salad potato from the 1950s, with a dark-red skin and deep-yel­low flesh with a mild, but out­stand­ing but­tery flavour. Belle de Fonte­nay (Sec­ond Early) A va­ri­ety from 1885 that’s un­der­stand­ably pop­u­lar here and in France. Full of flavour and with a su­perb waxy tex­ture. Char­lotte (Sec­ond Early) A fairly new and re­li­able va­ri­ety, grown widely com­mer­cially. Can pro­duce rather large tu­bers, which may be good or per­haps not: de­pends what you fancy.

Gour­man­dine An award-win­ning Sec­ond Early/early Main salad potato, with yel­low skin and creamy yel­low flesh. High yield­ing and keeps well. De­li­cious and re­sis­tant to bruis­ing, pow­dery scab and black spot.

La Ratte A long, thin, Early Main crop va­ri­ety from 1872, with a dis­tinc­tive ch­est­nut flavour that be­comes even more pro­nounced when eaten cold or just warm in sal­ads. Sim­i­lar to Pink Fir Ap­ple, but less nob­bly.

Vitelotte A rare Main crop salad potato, with un­usu­ally long oval tu­bers, with dark-pur­ple skin and pur­ple flesh that re­tains its colour when cooked. A de­li­cious, full-bod­ied flavour, rem­i­nis­cent of chest­nuts. Orig­i­nally from South Amer­ica and cul­ti­vated in France since 1850 as a gourmet del­i­cacy, it’s known as the truf­fle potato in Ger­many. For potato days, check your lo­cal press and visit www. potato-days.net

Mark Di­a­cono grows ed­i­bles, both usual and un­usual, at Ot­ter Farm in Devon (www.ot­ter­farm.co.uk)

Next week The life of the galan­thophile

Clock­wise from left: Solanum tubero­sum La Ratte; Cherie; Vitelotte

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