Saturday, 17 January 2015

French potatoes: you say spud, I say pomme de terre.

French potatoes: you say spud, I say pomme de terre - Telegraph:
French flavour
What’s so special about French potatoes? As with most French food, the emphasis is on flavour – varieties simply don’t last long if they don’t taste good. Heft and disease resistance come a very distant second.It’s also partly cultural – potatoes are seen as a bright, pleasurable presence on the plate rather than edible ballast, something to fill up on, and the popular French varieties reflect that.
Potatoes divide semi-tidily into two camps: the early, largely salad varieties, and the later, often flourier types.
The first camp accounts for 80 per cent or more of my potato patch, largely because they perform as if someone listened to all our gardening whinges and invented early potatoes in response.
They give you the most flavour and the finest texture, and you get them cheaply: shop-bought earlies can be wildly expensive and the flavour of home-grown salad potatoes eaten soon after lifting is – as with asparagus, sweetcorn and peas – of a different order to even the best you can buy.
More importantly, growing your own gives you access to the most delicious varieties, largely not available in the shops.
Earlies are largely trouble-free too, being planted, grown and harvested before midsummer when the warm weather that encourages blight arrives.
Once potatoes are lifted, the space is freed in time to plant out courgettes, squash or whateveryou fancy to take its place. In short, growing predominantly earlies gives you the best of all potato worlds.
Thanks to Jean, I’m growing even more French varieties alongside ‘International Kidney’, ‘Foremost’ and other British earlies. And there is no need for any concern about how they might perform on this side of the Channel. Many have been developed and are commonly grown in high-altitude areas of France, making them well suited to our typically cool and rainy climate.

Potato days
Good suppliers will have at least some of these varieties, but a Potato Day is, nerdy as it sounds,often the best place to source your potatoes. You can buy them in ones and twos of each type, which yield a great variety of flavour.
Maincrop varieties can be wonderful, too, if you choose well.
- ‘British Queen’ and ‘Pink Fir Apple’ are among those I’m growing from this side of the Channel, alongside ‘Ratte’ and ‘Bleu D’Auvergne’ from across the water. All are worth the Russian roulette with blight, just don’t gamble too much of your plot on them in case blight hits.
And as luck would have it, ‘Bleu D’Auvergne’ is traditionally used for Aligot – essentially, potato mashed with garlic, butter and cheese with all the rib-sticking wonderfulness that implies – see above right for the recipe.
‘Ratte’ – aka ‘Asparges’ or ‘Cornichon’ – Early maincrop.
An old (1872) fingerling variety (long and thin) that keeps its shape well when cooked. More importantly, its distinctive chestnut flavour becomes even more pronounced when eaten cold or just-warm in salads.
‘Roseval’ – Second early. A waxy salad potato from the Fifties, with a dark red Skin and a deep yellow flesh with a mild, buttery flavour.
‘Charlotte’ – Second early. A fairly new and reliable variety (inset), widely grown commercially. Can produce rather large tubers.
‘Belle de Fontenay’ – Second early
An old (1885) variety that is hugely popular here and in France. Really flavoursome and with a superb waxy texture.
‘Cherie’ – First early
A fabulous, recent variety with beautiful deep rose skin and a yellow, waxy flesh. Delicious, perfect for salads and fine sautéed too.
‘Cheyenne’ – Second early
A recent, red-skinned, yellow-fleshed salad variety with a fine flavour. If you are overrun with salad potatoes, leave these to mature.
‘Bleu D’Auvergne’. Main crop.
A classic French heirloom with a purple-blue skin and waxy white flesh. Purées perfectly thanks to its fine-grained texture. Not to be confused with, but very happy to be eaten with, the cheese of the same name.
‘Coquine’ – Second early
A new variety that’s a bit of a hedge-your-bets choice as it’s bred for resistance to late blight but has all the fine flavour you’d expect of a French salad variety.

First early Plant end Feb to late May, 10 weeks to harvest.
Second early Plant March to late May, 13 weeks to harvest.
Main crop Plant March to mid May, 20 weeks to harvest.

Reader offer: If you’d like to try six different potato varieties, or want to grow them on the patio in potato bags, try this “taster” collection (see page 4 for full details). It contains five tubers of each of the following six varieties (so you will receive 30 tubers in total: 'Casablanca', 'Charlotte’, ‘International Kidney’, ‘Rocket’, ‘Swift’ and ‘Pink Fir Apple’.
To order, visit
This collection contains five tubers of each of the following six varieties.

'Casablanca': a new, multi-purpose first early potato with a smooth white skin, shallow eyes and a creamy flesh. A handsome potato, that is rapidly becoming the exhibitors (and chefs) favourite.

'Charlotte': a very popular salad variety, which produces pear-shaped, yellow skinned waxy potatoes with creamy-yellow flesh. They are full of flavour and delicious either hot or cold. This variety also has high resistance to foliage and tuber blight.

'International Kidney':This famous main crop potato International Kidney has been made famous by being grown and sold in supermarkets as a new potato. This kidney shaped Heritage potato has a delicious buttery flavour - excellent boiled or as a salad potato.

'Rocket': a very heavy cropping variety with pure white flesh, which is waxy and soft at first digging. Easy to grow, it produces a bumper, early crop. It also has good all round disease resistance .

'Swift': hailed as one of the earliest croppers, with white-skinned, oval potatoes that have a creamy coloured flesh that is ideal for boiling. Their compact habit makes them ideal for containers.

'Pink Fir Apple': This late maincrop potato has knobbly pink skinned tubers of butter yellow, waxy flesh. An unusual potato that's great as a salad potato but can also be used to make delicious chips - with a single tuber for each chip! It has been given an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) by the Royal Horticultural Society.

Garden care: As soon as the potato tubers have been delivered you should unpack them and start the chitting (sprouting) process. Place them in single layer in a seed tray without compost and leave in a light, cool area protected from frost. This can be started about six weeks before you intend to plant them. Early varieties can be planted out under frost fleece protection, but the later varieties should be planted after the worst frosts have passed in your area - this is generally mid March to mid April. Dig a trench 8 - 13cm (3 - 5in) deep adding a general purpose fertiliser to the bottom of the trench. Plant the potato tubers in the trenches about 30cm (12in) apart, being careful not to knock the shoots off the tubers, and keeping the shoots facing upwards. Then lightly cover with soil. As the plants get to around 20cm (8in) tall you need to bank up the soil around the plant, so the soil covers the bottom two thirds of the plant. Watering your plants well will help improve crop yield and discourage potato scab.

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