Last year was rather bruising on the potato front. One by one I watched lusty beds of robust foliage falter and pucker before turning a bilious shade of brown and collapsing to the floor in a heap of slime. Those potatoes which survived the onslaught of late blight were a mere shadow of their normal selves: small, timid, half the weight they’re meant to be. One – to my eternal grief, it was the King Edwards, my all-time favourite roasting potato – succumbed entirely. The only variety to survive more-or-less unscathed was the spectacularly blight-resistant ‘Sarpo Mira’.
I’m assuming my soil is now oozing with lurking blight spores licking their fungusy little lips at the prospect of more gluttony to come this summer. So I’m taking a slightly different approach for this year’s potato trials. All the spud varieties on my list are either first and second earlies (out of the ground before the blight can strike), or varieties billed as having at least some resistance to blight.
A couple of years ago I used disease resistance as the no.1 criterion for choosing my spuds, in that case because I was worried about scab in my chalky soil. Result - a ton and a half of mind-warpingly boring, bland-tasting potatoes. It’s not an experience I relish repeating: but even bland potatoes are better than no potatoes. And I have high hopes of some on this list: if I find one with good flavour and blight resistance, I may just have discovered the spud-grower’s Shangri-La.
Spud varieties on trial this year:
Cherie: a pretty rose-pink first early with waxy flesh and what’s described as a ‘wonderful’ flavour, which bodes well. It’s a relatively modern variety, bred in 1997 in France – and what the French don’t know about flavour ain’t worth knowing.
Premiere: A Dutch-bred first early with all-round disease resistance and a high yield. The flesh is described as firm and dry, which makes me go a bit ‘hmm’ – but I’m willing to give it a go.
Sherine: A second early bred in 1987 from the popular exhibition spud ‘Nadine’, and considered by many to be superior. It’s a good, reliable type with a smooth oval shape and creamy, rather waxy flesh.
Belle de Fontenay: one I’ve been wanting to try for absolutely ages, as was bred in France in 1885 and is still grown today – in my book, about as gold-standard for flavour as it gets. It’s a second-early salad potato, waxy in texture and with a yellow flesh.
British Queen: This is a return visit from one of my 2010 second-earlies, when it did pretty well for flavour and scab resistance but not so well for cooking quality. However I thought I’d give it another go and try baking or frying the tubers this year instead.
Orla: One of the rare maincrops which isn’t a Sarpo variety yet is said to have good resistance to late blight. We’ll see. It’s an early maincrop with white flesh and is said to be ‘one of the better tasting blight varieties’ – sounds very promising indeed.
Markies: I had never heard of this floury maincrop variety until I came across it at the annual Castle Cary Potato Day at the weekend. But I’m looking forward to seeing how it performs: it’s modern (bred in 2008) and described as ’promisingly’ blight-resistant.
Sarpo Mira: A return showing for this exceptional yielding and almost fully blight resistant star performer from last year. I know that if none of the others produce a single tuber, I’ll still have this one to dig up come autumn, which makes it worth its weight in chips.
Results later in the year, when I will know, I hope, whether it really is possible to beat the blight.