Well. Who’d have thought it. The annual Crocus Kitchen Garden Potato Trials – that august institution by which potatoey reputations are won and lost – are five years old this year.
For five years I have been diligently noting the performance, yields and flavour of about eight (well, on a good year: mostly around five) different types of potato each year. That’s somewhere between 20 and 40 varieties, dear reader, and all for your benefit. OK, it’s not comprehensive: it’ll be a while before I’ve grown every single one of the 150+ types of potato currently available to veg growers in this country, but it’s a start.
Here’s the list:
2010: Sharpe’s Express, Kestrel, International Kidney, Mayan Gold, Pentland Squire, Blue Danube, Majestic, Vitelotte
Possibly the most interesting of all the years. It was the year of purple mash in our house: Mayan Gold was another highlight for flavour (a bit small though).
2011: Foremost, Accent, Vivaldi, British Queen, Lady Balfour, Robinta, Sarpo Kifli, Majestic
To this day I get Foremost and Accent muddled up, which is bad because Foremost is rubbish and Accent is scrumptious. Majestic emerged as my all-time fave maincrop.
2012: Duke of York, Charlotte, Pink Fir Apple, Mr Little’s Yetholm Gypsy, Picasso, King Edward, Majestic, Sarpo Mira
The worst yields in the worst spud-growing year I have ever experienced. A shame since a couple of these varieties were really special – or would have been.
2013: Premiere, Cherie, Sherine, Markies, Sarpo Mira
Sadly let down by appalling record keeping, plus a lack of space in my newly-redesigned and only half built new zigzag veg garden. But at least I discovered Premiere new potatoes.
So it’s been an interesting sort of half-decade in which I’ve found some firm favourites (Premiere – wonderful first early – and Majestic for a maincrop). And endured some real corkers: Sharpe’s Express is not one which will ever darken my garden gate again, and Foremost was pretty forgettable too.
One thing I have learned is that no two years are alike – so actually, doing trials every year like this is a bit pants and not a very reliable or useful way of testing out new potato varieties unless you grow exactly the same varieties each year. Which would be a bit boring.
I have grown Majestic most years and discovered that it’s mostly spectacularly good but in a poor year is very, very poor. Sarpo varieties have shone as the most rock-solid reliable disease resistant and generally bombproof spuds of the lot. But they do fall short, for me, on eating quality: Mira is a spectacularly heavy cropper but you have to be so careful how you cook it if you’re to avoid it turning to semi-liquid potato sludge. Kifli was better but lacked flavour. Blue Danube – purple on the outside, white on the inside – also lacked flavour and was very scabby. And Axona, which was the one I grew this year, was… well, you’ll have to read on to find out.
But enough of looking back: time to look forward to another five years of discovering new potatoes, not because it’s particularly scientific but just because I can and it’s fun.
I grew just five new varieties this year, all of them either first and second earlies or blight resistant following my decision earlier this year to grow only potatoes which are said to cope with the ubiquitous blight. Here’s the verdict.
Earlies and second earlies:
Ratte: Don’t be put off by the name: and yes, it is the same in English. Whyever you’d saddle a scrumptious spud like this with a dud of a name like that is beyond me. Anyway.
Also known as a fingerling – by which I think they mean just a relatively slender, long thin tuber – these were first to be harvested this year and within the first mouthful were among my all-time favourite first earlies.
Delicate, light flavour (brought out wonderfully by melted butter, just as a first early should be); firm, waxy texture; elegant small elongated tubers. What’s not to like?
Yield: 7.3kg: high for a new potato
Flavour: Ahhh… yes…. the flavour…. *happy sigh*
In a word: Mouthwatering
Vale’s Emerald: This one nearly gave me a heart attack by flowering early and then keeling over stone dead by mid July. No sign of blight, though. I was stumped but needn’t have worried: there were the tubers comfortably nestled in the earth just as they should be. Odd. Anyway: lovely spud, large, golden tubers and a higher than average yield for a first early. Flavour good but not exceptional: and I needed to earth this one up better as there were lots of green tubers forming near the surface.
Flavour: Acceptable: but not what you’d call outstanding
In a word: Unmemorable
Maris Peer: Now, I picked these out because we’re huge fans of Maris Piper spuds – it’s our go-to general purpose potato after King Edwards. But I can’t grow either here as they’re martyrs to the blight. So I thought I might get my Maris P fix if I tried the second early version: and I was right. Only trouble is, the slugs liked them just as much as we do and having had a mild winter last year it’s been a slug plague of a year. So we lost about a quarter of the crop to slimy rotting holes, which was a shame as the other three-quarters was scrummy.
Yield: 6.5kg (plus another 2kg or so to feed the slugs)
Flavour: Rich, creamy, wonderful
In a word: Holey
To be continued…