the joy of spuds

purple flowers similar to nightshade

I lived for many years in Spain and I don’t remember ever having a discussion about potatoes. In the UK, though, I’ve discovered that they are a perfectly valid topic for conversation.

Back in the day, there was a joke about the girl potato whose father forbade her to marry Eamonn Andrews – presenter of Sports Report on BBC’s Light Programme – because he was “only a commentator.”

I reckon most of the people I know could come up with several synonyms for potato – spud, tatty, tater, pratie, Murphy… – as well as being able to name a number of different varieties – King Edwards, Maris Piper, Desirée, Vivaldi, Russets, Jersey Royals, Charlottes, Home Guard, Golden Wonder (yes, apparently the crisps are made from a specific type of potato)… – and being able to talk confidently about floury or waxy varieties; many would even understand if I talked about chitting seed potatoes and banking up the earth around growing plants.

As for the cooking process, well, you can “boil them, mash them, stick them in a stew…” as well as bake, fry, roast, sautée… serve as croquettes, hash browns, potatoes Florentine, Dauphinoise…

There is possibly no food as comforting as a traditional mash: boiled King Edwards, made creamy with top of the milk and butter, seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper. So I was taken aback to be told last week that there is apparently a better potato for making mash. The person who told me had forgotten the variety, but “Maybe it began with a K…” so I set about looking to find out what I was missing.

Eventually I tracked down the Kestrel potato, and was surprised to see that it was developed in 1992. I thought that the potato had been brought across from the New World along with the tomato, the avodado, tobacco, and all manner of consumables ending in ‘o’ (nacho, burrito, oreo…) and I assumed it had been bred into submission centuries ago. The potatoes of my childhood (tuppence a pound from the Co-op greengrocer’s – I remember asking my mother from my pushchair why, at that price, we didn’t live entirely on potatoes) those potatoes were about as perfect as they needed to be and it hadn’t occurred to me that late in the twentieth century people would still be developing more.

As for the name, “Kestrel”, could it really be more inappropriate? Didn’t Dr Jack Dunnett realise that a kestrel soars in the heights of Heaven, while a potato meditates in underground dark?

So that’s how, on a recent visit to my aged mother, I came up with the idea of a new game to keep us amused: What name would you choose for a new variety of potato?

“Moonbeam,” she said, with little hesitation.

“Would it be floury or waxy…” I started to ask before realising that the clue was in the name: “moonbeam, a round, white-fleshed, waxy – or perhaps waney – potato.”

“And if it were floury?”

Then Home Pride, Flora, or perhaps Blodeuwedd – after the woman made of meadowsweet, broom and oak flowers from the tale in the Mabinogion.

After a brief interval during which we attempted to recite “The naming of spuds is a difficult matter…”, Mum and I moved on to a new set of questions:

  • If you were a potato, which variety would you be?
  • How would you want to be cooked?
  • What would you be served with?
    One advantage of being the organiser of such games is that I don’t always have to commit to an answer.

    But having given the questions some consideration, I think I’d be floury – fraying at the edges a bit when in hot water – and although a good solid mash with onion gravy is delightful, the weather when I’m writing this is positively summery; maybe, then, I’d be part of a tepid salad, with broad beans, fresh peas, chopped hard-boiled egg and olive oil.


    Observant readers will have noticed that the images accompanying this post are not photos of potatoes.

    Last time I posted the rather lovely purple flowers at the top of this post, ensuing discussion led me to believe it might be a Chilean nightshade, which is a plant from the same family of which I happen to have a photo. The berries below are also from the same family, perhaps the woody or bittersweet nightshade.

    nightshade berries

    Author: don't confuse the narrator

    Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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