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No - not mine. A dazzlingly varied display at the Whitchurch Potato Day earlier this year.

Rather ambitiously, not to say foolishly, and somewhat carried away while at the Potato Day at Whitchurch earlier this year, I decided to grow no fewer than eight different varieties of potato this year.

Well: they’re now up, and at least some of each variety have been eaten and much commented on. Here, for your delight and delectation, are the verdicts: read and adjust your seed potato orders for next year accordingly.

Before I begin, I should just say that this is an entirely subjective process: and what I thought tasted fantastic, you might think is completely disgusting. Although I doubt it: more likely is that what I thought was a bit bland, in your conditions and with different weather/soil/cooking/insert variable as required will turn out just perfect. So although I would heartily recommend the ones that came out top, I wouldn’t exactly not recommend the ones that didn’t. If that makes sense. Which it probably doesn’t.

All varieties were grown on the allotment, which means fairly heavy clay, a bit on the soggy side, but double-dug and later mulched with plenty of well-rotted horse manure.

And of course they all had to endure the wonderful growing season that has been 2010: which is to say, a chilly spring that took forever to get going, followed by a little bit of perfect weather – just enough sun, just enough rain – followed by nearly eight weeks of drought. All in all, a pretty typically untypical year. Yields may therefore be a bit on the low side: each yield quoted is for a single 11ft row, about 10 seed potatoes in all.

Just two varieties made it through to my list for growing again next year, although one or two came close and the jury is still out on purple potatoes in our family. But anyway: here, without further ado, are my verdicts on this year’s potato varieties.

Earlies and second earlies:

Sharpe’s Express: the only early variety I grew this year. I had high hopes of this one. In order to make space for it I gave up my cherished crop of ‘Duke of York’ – previously the only early potato I grew as I found it hard to see how it could possibly be improved. It was a hard act to follow, and perhaps I had unreasonable expectations. But this is meant to have been Percy Thrower’s favourite new potato: well, if that’s the case, all I can say is he obviously hadn’t tried ‘Duke of York’.
     Yield: didn’t measure this one exactly, but it was acceptably generous
     Flavour: What flavour’s that, then? Entirely bland.
     Verdict: 2/10
     In a word: Forgettable.

Kestrel: Ah, now this is more like it. This was my second early for this year and a fine potato it is too. Really attractive tubers with pink eyes, and a good size. The flavour was excellent – so nice to get a good flavour from a spud – and the yields were very generous. I’d even go so far as to say this will take over – or, at least, rival – my old favourite second early, the exquisitely flavourful ’British Queen‘, for space on my plot. My only tiny quibble about it is that it tends to disintegrate a little on cooking: but that’s a minor point (and besides, ‘British Queen’ does that too). A welcome discovery and one which I’d grow again.
     Yield: again, didn’t measure this one exactly, but generous
     Flavour: Rich and buttery, just as a spud should be
     Verdict: 9/10
     In a word: Delicious.

Maincrops:

International Kidney: perfectly acceptable, but let's face it, a bit of a disappointment

International Kidney: I grew this in two different ways this year. We’re not allowed to say that they’re really re-named Jersey Royals, as those nice people in the Channel Islands will come and slap our wrists for improper use of brand names. But anyway, you can grow them as earlies: I tried them in sacks to force earlier this year. Big mistake: yields were microscopically tiny. But I tried them again in the open ground, as maincrops, with much better results.

However, I was half expecting the swooning delights of that unique Jersey Royal taste (even though, they’re not Jersey Royals). Well – they’re nice, and they resisted my little outbreak of late blight well. But they were not the exceptional spud I’ve been looking for.
     Yield: 4.2kg
     Flavour: Reasonable, quite passable, but not remarkable
     Verdict: 7/10
     In a word: Unobjectionable.

Mayan Gold: wonderful, but very, very small

Mayan Gold: The golden potato of the Incas: and one the gourmet chefs have been getting very excited about. This is a modern variety, but it’s bred from some really old South American phereja varieties – known for their dense flesh and exceptionally good taste.

However there’s one thing nobody tells you about these potatoes. They are small. We’re talking really, really small: not one was bigger than a hen’s egg, and most were nearer quail’s egg sized. This means they are very fiddly indeed to peel, clean, harvest…. just about everything really.

But that’s the only black mark against them: otherwise they entirely lived up to expectations. I’ve never cooked a potato that has stayed so firm and had such a wonderful texture on the plate: the flavour was absolutely delicious. If I could be bothered with all the scrubbing, I’d easily grow them again; as it is, I shall wait until the children have left home and I have empty hours to fill.
    Yield: 3.5kg
    Flavour: Outstanding: and the texture in particular was exceptional, firm and smooth
    Verdict: 8/10
    In a word: Teeny-weeny.

Pentland Squire: good, reliable, boring

Pentland Squire: Now, if you like baked potatoes, this is the one to choose. The Pentland series of spuds – there are a few more, Pentland Javelin, Pentland Crown… I won’t go on – is tried and tested, reliable, workmanlike, unsurprising.

And, unsurprisingly, I wasn’t entirely disappointed: if you want a high-yielding potato with plenty of bang for your buck, especially if you like that satisfaction that comes from pulling a really big tuber out of the ground (‘wow, Mum, is that the biggest potato in the world?’) – this is the spud for you.

I did think they’d taste a bit better though. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with them: they’re just… well… no different from supermarket potatoes really. Except that they had quite a lot of scab, which you wouldn’t find on a supermarket spud. But whereas you put up with the downsides of homegrown – slug holes, scab and gaping scars where you’ve stuck the fork in a bit too enthusiastically – you expect a bit of a taste sensation in return. And that – this ain’t.
     Yield: 4.8kg
     Flavour: Good, but unremarkable
     Verdict: 6/10
     In a word: Workmanlike.

To be continued…

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