Friday, 13 August 2010

Potatoes - We've Ingested the Infested

While other parts of the country are, apparently, dry and droughty, the same cannot be said of Cornwall.  The predictable result is that, as I mentioned earlier, blight has destroyed our potato crop.  Still, it does present us with the opportunity to try a few of the eclectic mix of varieties that happen to have ended up growing here, albeit a little earlier than anticipated.  For the purposes of the taste test, they were boiled, with a little sprig of mint. Here goes:

From top, clockwise: Gloucester Black Kidney; Vales Emerald; Rote Emma; Purple Peruvian; Nicola; Robinta

Gloucester Black Kidney: a good tasting, dry and floury variety.  Lovely appearance with distinctive kidney shaped tubers - well named.  White flesh despite the purple skin.  Excellent except for the pitiful yield.  From Nip it in the Bud

Vales Emerald: huge tubers and lots of them. Firmer than the above, probably a good baker.  Flavour initially unremarkable, then left a bitter aftertaste and a harsh sensation in the back of the throat.   Nice yield, shame about the taste.  From Nip it in the Bud

Rote Emma: smooth, waxy, very pleasant.  Pink flesh.  Good yield, but wins the Mollusc Medal for its enduring appeal to slugs.  We like this one too, but somehow the slugs always get there first. Originally from Ulrike Paradine

Purple Peruvian: dry, floury, slightly "nutty" taste. Delicious, purple fleshed.  Firm, doesn't break up easily, a good all-rounder.  Just the thing before or after manual labour at 0-4000m. Brilliantly camouflaged in the soil - we always miss loads.  Horribly susceptible to blight and although they crop reasonably, tuber size is not impressive.  Despite this, we have been growing them from our own seed for over ten years now.  Purple mash will create a stir at the most staid dinner party.

Nicola: waxy, with a good flavour.  Good yield, worth growing again. From Nip it in the Bud

Robinta: waxy/ buttery flavour.  Very pleasant, would make an excellent salad potato. Good yield. Will be growing it again. From Nip it in the Bud

Some old Greek guy once mentioned that one could never step in the same river twice; so it is with the evolution of pests and pathogens. As tasty as Gloucester Black Kidney and Purple Peruvian have proved themselves to be, they are, in this area at least, no longer practical for fungicide-free horticulture. These worthy stalwarts from days of yore just don't cut the mustard when it comes to withstanding the virulence of Blue 13 and its successors.  Were Heraclitus around today, he would perhaps concur: time to move on.

Like the light from a distant constellation that's dying in the corner of the sky, these varieties are the product of another age, now past.  In the song by Paul Simon, from which those lyrics are lifted, he exhorts: don't cry, baby, don't cry. He may have a point: it's perfectly possible, in these days of miracle and wonder, to envisage an elusive affiliation of potatoheads and tomatoheads, breeding new, tasty, blight-beating varieties; they could transfer genes from these oldies to blight resistant ones, thus combining the best of the old with the best of the new. They may be old, but they ain't necessarily cold. The heirloom potatoes, I mean. Let's hear it for cross-pollination - a bit of sexual healing may yet knock Phytophthora infestans off its perch.  So join, why don't you, some of the people already engaged in this work: Rebsie FairholmFrank van Keirsbilck; Vegetable HeavenTom WagnerPatrick Wiebe; Open Plant Breeding Foundation.  You have nothing to lose but your free time.

9 comments:

nic@nipitinthebud said...

I recognise them there tubers :o) Are you Mr Choclette?
My Peruvian Purples are still in the ground but I'm so excited about the colourful dishes I'll be able to create with them. So sorry to hear you've been bashed by blight this year.
Thanks for posting details about my blog - perhaps this link for the potato post would be helpful as my main address changes between gardening/food/crafting/random musings as often as I change my socks!
http://nipitinthebud.wordpress.com/2010/03/27/one-potato-two-potato/

Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial said...

Hi there, Choclette directed me here - thank you for an interesting post. We're just about to plant out our first potatoes - apart from the Nicola, I've never seen the varieties you mention here in Australia. We're planting out bintjes, red norlands, spuntas and king edwards. All certified virus-free seed potatoes, so hopefully we won't get any blight problems!

I'm off to explore the rest of your blog.. :)

Rhizowen said...

Nic - guilty as charged. I've updated the link.

Celia - g'day. I'm not exactly sure where in Australia you are, but I would have thought you could try sweetpotatoes as well. They'll be some interesting heritage spuds knocking around - probably in Tasmania or New Zealand. Have a look at Diggers http://www.diggers.com.au/ for other heirloom veggies. Their garden at Heronswood, near Melbourne is worth a visit if you are in the area. Unfortunately blight is a fungal, rather than viral disease - hopefully it won't be a problem in your area.

nic@nipitinthebud said...

Hi TC, location obviously makes a huge difference to growing spuds. My Gloucester Black Kidney tasted nice but I wouldn't say they were very kidney shaped - more like new potatoes really. I suspect this was a result of being so dry. And goodness, what happened to your Vales Emerald? We enjoyed those and they're on my list for next year. I had a few whopping baking sized potatoes then lots of smaller ones. Perhaps it's when they get big the taste changes? Or did the blight effect them do you think? My Nicola, Robinta and Peruvian Purples are still in the ground but I couldn't resiste digging a few PPs up. The shape reminded me of pink fur apples and I look forward to cooking some up when G is back. Thanks again for the swap x

VegBoxBoy said...

The multi-coloured spuds look very good. I've never seen spuds like these before, so given I'm a long way further north than you I might have a go at these next year.

With any luck I mght get away with it.

Rebsie Fairholm said...

Oooh there's some beauties there.

Despite it tipping down every day like a fine English August, the potatoes seem to be holding up against blight here so far. I've been experimenting with not using any fertiliser at all (on potatoes or tomatoes) as it seems to be a factor in blight resistance, but it may just be that I've been lucky this year.

So ... did any of these spuds produce flowers and/or berries? I have some blight-resistance genes kicking about in some spuds from Tom Wagner and I'm busily crossing them into as many heritage varieties as I can persuade to set berries. Not that it's easy to breed for blight resistance with epistatic genes in a tetraploid lottery but the more the genes are shaken up the better the chances.

Rhizowen said...

Hi Rebsie

Glad to hear that it does actually rain somewhere else other than Cornwall. No berries unfortunately (although one appeared on the phureja plants for the first time this year). If you want to try any, I'm sure I can spare one or two.

Good luck with those crosses. I think I saw Tetraploid Lottery at the Pump Rooms in Leamington Spa once, supporting Show of Hands.

Rebsie Fairholm said...

Ooh, phureja seeds are always welcome. I have some OP seed from Mayan Gold growing in the garden, but that's the only phureja variety I have, and is currently being forced to mate with the stenotomums. If you have any phurejas other than that, I can give them a loving home.

Purple Veg said...

Hi, and thanks for sending me this link. I have been convinced to try the Peruvian Purple potatoes next year (purple mash!), if I manage to find somewhere who sells them...

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