Delights of the humble spud

Digging your own potatoes and serving up “balls of flour’’ on the kitchen table, an hour later, is a special kind of experience that’s becoming all too rare in Ireland, with the one-time staple food being gradually forsaken in recent years, writes Donal Hickey. 

Delights of the humble spud

Growing up in an era in which a dinner wouldn’t be regarded as a dinner without generous helpings of potatoes, I take pride in my early British Queens and can boast a splendid crop this year. Anybody with even a small vegetable patch can have their own potatoes which are easy to grow.

It’s a primal delight to see the first stalks peeping an inch or so above the ground and then shooting up to dominate the garden in a few weeks. Some people grow their potatoes

in barrels. We hear stories of people going to extreme lengths to commune with nature, but there’s much to be seen outside the backdoor where vegetables are growing.

When digging, a robin surely will be close by, watching for any worms that come to the surface. Blackbirds are not as cheeky: They tend to wait until you’re gone before moving in for the kill. I also see beautifully-speckled thrushes around the place and then there’s all the insect life that can be seen underfoot.

Bord Bia has reported a 40% drop in potato consumption in the last 40 years. In 2015, the average Irish person ate 85kg of potatoes, compared to 140kg in the 1970s. The food board has also been trying to dispel myths that this is a fattening food. A medium-sized potato has 110 calories; no fat (when baked or boiled), has vitamin C, and more potassium than a banana.

In spite of everything, it is still the number one carbohydrate here, followed by rice, noodles and pasta. The biggest fall-off is among the 22-44 age group and most people now eat spuds just two to three times per week, surveys have found. If only our

grannies came back!

Bord Bia has an ongoing promotional campaign and a number of other events are held around the country. Brothers Cyril and Barry O’Loughlinn, from Ennis, Co Clare, were

recently crowned potato champions at Tullamore Show, in Co Offaly, while Feile an Phrata (potato festival) is an annual fixture in the Dingle Peninsula, Co Kerry.

Chips aside, some people set out to be more imaginative in how they use the food and, occasionally, traditional recipes like colcannon, coddle and boxty appear on menus.

Brothers Johnny and Paddy McGuire, of Bricin Restaurant, in Killarney, Co Kerry, have had boxty as a house specialty for years and report its enduring popularity with visitors from many lands. Boxty is a type of potato pancake which diners devour.

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