This Saturday (17th) is the Comber Earlies Festival which started me thinking about our local spuds. An Irish legend says that wrecks of the Spanish Armada contained potatoes and that some of them washed ashore. Was this the beginning of the Irish love affair with patatas fritas, or was it in 1589 when Sir Walter Raleigh first planted the potato at his Irish estate near Cork? The story goes that he made a gift of the plant to Queen Elizabeth I and the local gentry were invited to a royal banquet that featured the potato in every course. Unfortunately the cooks hadn’t seen this strange foodstuff before and assumed you ate the poisonous stems and leaves. These promptly made everyone deathly ill, the strange new vegetable was banned from court, and Tayto nearly didn’t make it onto the carpet at Aldergrove.
Where are we going with this, I hear you ask? Well, this is an excuse to show you a photograph of our potato plant, Solanum Crispum, one of 1400 species of the Chilean Potato Tree. It is a cousin of the kitchen potato as well as being related to the eggplant and tomato families. The lovely purple flowers appear in summer followed by berries which taste so appalling that even the birds reject them. Find it in the Peace Garden.
Never let it be said that I ignore trivia or fail to pass it on to my mates, so here are more quiz winning facts. The earliest known recipe for potato chips is in William Kitchiner‘s 1822 cookbook The Cook’s Oracle, a bestseller in England and the United States; its recipe for “Potatoes fried in Slices or Shavings” reads “peel large potatoes, slice them about a quarter of an inch thick, or cut them in shavings round and round, as you would peel a lemon; dry them well in a clean cloth, and fry them in lard or dripping”.
Also did you know that spuds were the first vegetable to be grown in space? So that Martian Mash TV ad was true and you can find some of the Cadbury’s Smash puppets in the National Media Museum in Bradford. And, finally, based on 2010 statistics, China is the leading producer of potatoes. They serve their fish and chips with sugar – a new version of sweet and sour perhaps? Think I’ll stick to Champ – with scallions and country butter, it’s a mash made in Heaven.