Wednesday 4 April 2012

Stemster - or Prospère?

Sunday 1st April and La Nouvelle Republique reported a new competitor for the famous potato variety Charlotte, named Prospère, from France Plants. This is described as "High yielding even in dry weather, as good mashed as fried and keeping in storage from 6 to 8 months, pink skinned and of excellent flavour". The "curious gardener" can try it this spring.

France Plants publicity photo of Prospère - not a particularly good specimen!
Well, many French gardeners have been trying it for some while, myself included, because the bags are labelled Prospère (Stemster). We first spotted and photographed them at Descartes market a couple of weeks ago, at €4.70 for a 1.5 kilo bag.

Prospère (Stemster) in Descartes market, 11th March 2012
We have grown Stemster for two years, on the recommendation of allotmenting friends, and it's everything it's cracked up to be in our opinion - except that it's not French, but Scottish, and it's not a new variety, but over 25 years old.

According to Alan Romans' The Potato Book, Stemster was developed by Dr Jack Dunnett in Caithness (the lowlands beyond the Highlands) in 1986, and named after a hill and loch not far from the little east-coast port of Lybster, where Tim used to have a house. You can - or could - order Scottish-grown Stemster in bags of 10, 20 or 60 seed from Alan Romans here.

These look rather fine, don't they?
We can certainly vouch for the drought tolerance of Stemster from our experience last year, and France Plants's own press release (which you can see here) says it is even grown in North Africa! The press release doesn't mention Stemster by name, but it carries a photo of the same bags. You can buy France Plants seed potatoes in the big supermarkets, in local garden centres and markets, in Bricos, on line - everywhere. They come in 1.5 kilo and 3 kilo bags, clayettes (boxes) and big sacks for the market gardener.

France Plants go on at length about the old-fashioned flavour, which is interesting in view of the blandness of so many modern varieties. Classic French dishes such as gratinée dauphinoise swamp any flavour the potato might actually have with other ingredients - stock, onions, leeks, garlic for instance. From the press release I gather that France Plants have spotted a new market for foodstuffs with an "authentic taste". Very canny, and they have a winner. Equally canny is the name, which means "Prosperous", and has an old fashioned ring to it.

My big concern is that Alan Romans won't be able to export Stemster to me in France any more, because Prospère is a registered trademark - une exclusivité France Plants. I know how many rows of potatoes I want, and 10 plants per row is just fine. Therefore I like the ability to buy a set number of seed from Alan - French seed potatoes tend to be smaller than British ones, so even 1.5 kilos is quite a lot.

The one thing Stemster isn't, is a competitor for Charlotte - a potato more unlike Charlotte than Stemster would be impossible to find in France. If I was only permitted to grow one variety, I think it would be Stemster. As it is, this year we are only growing Red Duke of York (early), Charlotte (salad), Stemster (all-rounder), Remarka (baker) and Pink Fir Apple (unique - corne de gatte  in France) plus a couple of heritage varieties. And one hint from NR - it is traditional in France to plant potatoes at the flowering of the lilac - still a couple of weeks away, judging from our lilac trees. That's a less moveable feast than the British tradition of planting your spuds on Good Friday!


Susan said...

As you know I am also a big fan of Stemster, thanks to your recommendation. It is the only variety I am planting in our drought prone potager this year. I was told that the traditional first date for putting your spuds in was St Georges Day, so that is what I am aiming for. The lilacs are out here.

Tim said...

Our lilac (in a very exposed position) is nowhere near out! I wonder how many other traditions there are for spud planting. Pauline