Ode to the Potato

Humble potato,

So versatile,

Come mashed, chipped or boiled,

There’s always a smile.

The Potato Past

All types of potatoes are originally from South America, like many other products we consume, enjoy and grow such as wheat, corn, coffee and chocolate. Potatoes came to Europe after the European explorers returned after discovering the New World. It was brought to Britain in 1586[1]. Although the potato was cultivated in England centuries before, it did not become popular in Britain until the late 19th-century[2] as a result of the Industrial Revolution which saw demand for the potato as a cheap, energy-rich food for urban workers[1]. It is regarded that the potato fortified the rise of the West, leading to Colonialism[2]

The Perfect Mash

A British Classic: Sausage & Mash!
A British Classic: Sausage & Mash!

The UK ranks as the world No. 11 in the world potato producing countries[2]. There are only about 3,000 registered potato growers in the UK (a sharp fall from 70,000 50 years ago[2]). Despite the drop in potato farmers, the average person in the UK eats an estimated 401g of fresh potatoes each week![3]. The potato is king of the side dish. We have potato scones alongside our beans and bacon in the morning, a packet of crisps alongside our sarnies, and a dollop of mash with our roasts at teatime. You can even make your cakes with boiled, pureed sweet potato! Or how about making speciality gluten-free vodka by fermenting potatoes?

Not only are potatoes versatile and cost-effective, they can also last months if stored correctly[4]. Therefore, buying in bulk is recommended, and even more pocket-friendly. Potatoes don’t like the fridge or the light. Storage needs to be in a cool dark place unless they are salad varieties,  and these can be kept in the fridge.

1 Potato, 2 Potatoes, 3 Potatoes, 4… The Types of potato

Many of life’s phenomena come in groups of 7. The 7 wonders of the world, 7 days of the week, 7 notes in a scale, 7 virtues, 7 deadly sins and so do potatoes![5]

  1. Russet: Best for baking and frying to achieve the crispy skin and fluffy insides.
  2. Yellow: Buttery flavour and creamy texture so doesn’t need the addition of butter.
  3. Red: A waxy texture, thus stays firm throughout cooking whether roasted or  in stews.
  4. White: Generally a good all-rounded potato and thin-skinned so not necessary to peel.
  5. Purple/Blue: Eye-catching colour, steaming best way to retain colour, mild nutty flavour, good with a green salad.
  6. Fingerling: Fun colour and shape. Usually, a reddish-pink tinge, buttery nutty flavours and are good for wedges.
  7. Baby: What they lack in size, they make up for in flavour. Generally early harvests from the other 6 categories. Quick cooking and used for hot or cold salads mostly. Their thin skins are easily digested.

Floury or Waxy Potatoes: What Potato is Right For You?

Potatoes are distinguished as floury or waxy. This denotation helps to decide how to cook your potato.

Floury potatoes have a lower water content than waxy ones[5]. This means that they are better for baking and mashing and at absorbing flavours think baked rosemary potato wedges. The natural sugars in floury potatoes have converted to starch. Starch, although it sounds bad, is broken down into glucose in the body and used as fuel[6]. Most starchy foods contain important minerals such as fibre, as well as B vitamins. Avoid boiling floury types, as they break apart[6]. For floury types; think Russet and King Edward types.

On the other hand, waxy spuds are exemplary as boiled, steamed and roasted. Waxy potatoes are lower in starch and have a high water content[5] and a denser texture so they don’t absorb excess water. Hence why they are better roasted or in salads and keep their shape during the cooking process. Waxy potatoes are ideal for eating early in the potato season. For potatoes lower in starch; think Pink Fir Apple or Jersey Royals.

The purple varieties can be boiled and mashed, but be careful not to overcook them. Steaming is preferable as they keep their colour. Red potatoes and fingerlings are great for dishes like soups, potato salads, and stews. If you’re going to be changing the shape and state of the potato before you serve it. If you want those high-starch varieties that absorb flavours and end up mashed or fried use Russets.

Of course, the tuber clan also has all-purpose variety. Yukon Gold, Desiree and most purple varieties are ideal for mashing, but also has the versatility to be fried and boiled. If you aren’t sure what kind of starch content a particular potato has, there’s one simple trick that can help you tell the difference. Look at the skin. If it feels thin, it’ll be a waxy potato that will hold its shape when you cook it. If it’s a thicker skin, it’ll be better as a mashed potato[6].

Peeling Away the Misconception of Potatoes

“What I say is that, if a fellow really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow”
A. A. Milne

Potatoes, especially the white varieties, have got a bad rap at the moment with all the talk of sugary, starchy focused riots. However, its usually what is done with the humble potato, more often than not, that makes the potato an unhealthy option. All types of potato are high in fibre if the skins are consumed. Potatoes are also rich in vitamins C and B6. Both these vitamins collectively help to produce neurotransmitters; essential for communication throughout and within the body[7].

Potatoes are an excellent source of potassium, containing more than bananas, and carbohydrates, which are essential to our functionality. As the potato, served without adding to it, is exactly what our bodies require energy-wise It is easily digested as it is a form on unprocessed carbohydrate[8] and an excellent alternative to wheat-based carbs such as bread and pasta for those who bloat easily or have gluten sensitivities. Potatoes are basically free from fat, sodium and cholesterol[7], therefore its just what you’re adding which makes them bad. Although, this also explains why potatoes need a good salting!

The Potato: Britain’s Answer to a Locally Grown Superfood?

We’ve been going crazy for superfoods of late. Each year we are excited by exotic produce like goji berries, chia seeds, coconut water and avocados, so many colourful and fun sounding names, but behind all the glamour of imported produce from sunny climates there is the humble potato. It’s easy to forget such a humble, simple food. Discover locally-grown potatoes, of many varieties, shapes and colours right here in Northumberland!

Buston Potatoes

Buston Farms

Since 1965, the Park family have been farming at Buston Farms down the Northumberland coast near Warkworth. Collectively, the family farm 2000 acres of land in Northumberland. They employ 5 full-time members of staff and well as having seasonal staff during harvest time.

Working alongside nature is important to the Park family. In efforts to reduce reliance on artificial fertilisers and pesticides, Buston Farms use ‘green manures’, also known as cover crops, such as vetch which is rich in nitrogen and potassium, essential minerals for maintaining a healthy, abundant potato crop. Furthermore, vetch can also be used to make silage or fodder. Green manures improve soil fertility and amplify organic matter in the soil.

Cover crops: Phacelia and Vetch

Buston Potatoes are accredited by a number of farming schemes including LEAF (linking environment and farming) and the Red Tractor Scheme, also know as Assured Food Standards. They are also part of the Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) Scheme. This scheme offers farms the chance to undertake environmental management schemes to benefit local areas. The intention of these projects is to improve and conserve wildlife and natural resources as well encourage public understanding of farming practices. Buston Potatoes offer outreach programmes in the local area for people who want to know more about farming and food production and have bee hives on the farm kept by a local beekeeper.

As a result of the HLS scheme, Buston Potatoes use yield mapping to monitor environmental practices on the farm and their yield output. This technique uses GPS to analyse the yield of the field to create a yield map so the data can be used to compare yearly. Additionally, at Buston Farms, there is an RTK Base Station (Real-time Kinematic) which means there is inch-accuracy for the automated steering of certain farm vehicles in the fields.

Although half of their crops are seed potatoes, which means potatoes that are used for re-planting the next crops, Buston Potatoes have 6 seed varieties, they do sell bags of potatoes to the public and wholesalers. Generally, know as ware potatoes, potatoes which are designed to eat, their varieties include;

  • Estima

A good all-purpose white-yellow potato especially for baked potatoes, wedges and mash.

  • Nectar

A firm yellow potato so good in stews

  • Saxon

A creamy-white coloured potato good for making chips and mashing and boiling

The ware potatoes are sold from the farm come in sacks of 12.5kg or 25kg sacks. Phone ahead for collection times. Potatoes are also sold to local pubs around the area in towns and villages such as Amble, Alnmouth and Rennington.

So, what’s for dinner?

Potato, a staple of many a meal. A comfort food. Join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and share with us your favourite potato varieties and how you cook them!