Little treasures – the first new Irish potatoes are here!

Ah, what a joy to spot the first new Irish potatoes on a mid-May wander through the English Market. From some of our warmest growing areas – in Carne Co Wexford and Rosscarbery in West Cork -  and given a choice corner, and the names of the growers proudly displayed, who could resist these little treasures?

Well, despite our long love affair with the potato, quite a few people seem to have their hearts set on other foods these days it seems, and GIY (Grow it Yourself) and Bord Bia have just got together to re-connect Irish people with their inner #spudlove. Announcing their search for Ireland’s Favourite Potato, the idea is to encourage Irish people to grow, cook and eat spuds.

The spudlove initiative will target food growers and GIYers in communities all over Ireland, by encouraging them to take part in a local ‘Spud Off’ a spud growing competition which will find Ireland’s favourite spud.

It will also appeal to non-food growers encouraging them to show their love for spuds by cooking and eating them and sharing on social media. Find out all about it at http://www.giyinternational.org/spudlove

But those of us who already love our spuds – and especially the first earlies – will be harvesting our own (a very satisfying experience) or keeping an eye out for early varieties like Homeguard and (not as well known, but popular with growers) Premiere.

Initially first earlies are easiest to find in the south of the country – in the English Market, of course, also from speciality food shops such as the Ardkeen Quality Food Store in Waterford, local markets and roadside stalls – and in other favoured spots such as Co Down, famed for their Comber Earlies PGI (‘Protected Geographical Indication’ status under EU law).

Once hunted down, serve your new Irish potatoes simply cooked so that their wonderful fresh, sweet flavour and tender texture can be enjoyed to the full. This is the way my mother cooked them and it would be hard to beat.

RECIPE: New Potatoes with Mint

It is surely no coincidence that mint is at its tender best when the first new potatoes are harvested – and, of course, there’s no better accompaniment to the new season’s lamb than minted potatoes and fresh young peas.

Freshly dug new potatoes, eg first earlies Homeguard or Sharpe’s Express

Equal quantities of milk and water

Sea salt

A good sprig of mint

Butter and freshly chopped parsley or chives (optional) to serve.

Give the potatoes a thorough wash or light scrubbing – they shouldn’t need scraping when very young, but will do later in the season.

Meanwhile, have the milk and water heating on the hob. Add the potatoes and a fairly good seasoning of salt, bring quickly up to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 10- 15 minutes or until just tender.

Drain well and add a good knob of butter. Turn in the melted butter, then put into a hot serving dish. Scatter with the chopped parsley or chives, if using, and serve immediately.

Variation: Small new potatoes are also very good steamed with a sprig of mint tucked in amongst them in the steamer. Allow a little longer cooking time than for boiling.

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