Friday, 11 February 2011
Do the Stemster Mash (it caught on in a flash)
For anyone living in France who likes a tasty mashed (puréed or creamed) potato, go along to your local Bricomarché or garden centre now and pick up a bag of Stemster seed potatoes. We grew half a dozen plants last year on the recommendation of an allotment association friend back in Leeds. Those six plants gave us half a sack of decent sized, clean and healthy spuds, including a good proportion of bakers. They are obviously very tolerant of drought, because they were planted in April then left to their own devices until we moved house, and they did better than anything else we grew. The skin is pink and the flesh is a pale creamy colour. They keep well too - we are still eating them, although down to the last four. The picture, needless to say, is from Alan Romans (see below).
An awful lot of seed potatoes in France are an attempt to produce a better salad spud than Charlotte (on yield possibly, on flavour - no contest) or a better all-round spud than Bintje (high yield not much taste). In the UK we used to enjoy the "Grow Organic" Potato days, where it is possible to buy varieties one has never tried before by the single tuber, or however many space permits. That introduced us to Belle de Fontenay, BF15, Roseval, La Ratte and Linzer Delikatess, all long-established salad potatoes available here and excellent they are too. However a commercial "sample pack" both here and in the UK is 25 potatoes.
No doubt many people like "mild" potatoes, but I like mine to taste of something. And Stemster is Scottish! It was developed by Jack Dunnett in Caithness, just as far North as you can go in Britain and still be on the Mainland. Stemster is one of a couple of villages in the "lowlands beyond the highlands" and the name is of Scandinavian origin.
Addition to blog - I ordered my seed potatoes from Alan Romans, ex schoolteacher, potato nut and now supplier to, among others, Thompson and Morgan. UK potato growers seem to like a bigger seed tuber than the French - it will be interesting to see if there's much difference.
My seed potatoes are now in a cool room in mushroom trays "chitting" - allowing the sprouts, that will inevitably start now, to grow upwards and not get tangled. Studies have determined that it doesn't make any difference to the yield whether or not a potato is chitted (sprouted) when it is planted. However it won't do the poor things any good to sit in a net bag (or, worse, a plastic bag) so that the sprouts go through the mesh..... So which way up should the potato go? There are three clues. (1) A potato normally has a patch where buds are concentrated; this is called the "rose end" and the potato is positioned with this patch uppermost. (2) The root connecting the tuber to the plant often leaves a little tuft or a string. This should be positioned downwards. (3) Individual buds often nestle in a crescent shape. This should be positioned to look like a smile.