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Ireland and the spud go hand-in-hand, but they're in decline. Myth they're fattening is damaging

Spuds have a particular image problem among young women – ask a group of your female friends to come up with a word to describe potatoes and “fattening” is likely to be the most common response, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Gardener

Today is National Potato Day, but did you know that our national treasure is actually in decline. This article was first published on Saturday 26 September. 

BORD BIA RECENTLY announced a €1 million ‘makeover’ to re-position the potato and stop the decline in sales.

Over the last decade spud sales have taken a serious hammering, dropping almost 25% and by as much as one third between 2002 and 2014 alone.

There’s a notable dip among younger consumers who view potatoes as unexciting and not as handy as rice or pasta.

Spuds have a particular image problem among young women – ask a group of your female friends to come up with a word to describe potatoes and “fattening” is likely to be the most common response.

SuperValu new season Irish Potatoes. Top model Sarah Morrissey helps SuperValu announce that the first new season Irish potatoes will be delivered to over 190 stores nationwide this week. Source: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

As an ardent spud lover, I find all these opinions a little hard to fathom. I reckon spuds are just as easy to cook as pasta and rice and I find them incredibly versatile in the kitchen.

The view that they are fattening is a complete myth, since spuds are in fact naturally fat free. It’s only when we slather them in cheese and butter that they become fattening (and since scientists can’t seem to agree whether these fats are good or bad for you anyway, I take that as licence to slather away).

A swathe of consumers view spuds as just another carb – this does them a great disservice since unlike their highly processed carb cousins, spuds are a completely unprocessed nutritional powerhouse.

There is more Vitamin C in a potato than there is in an orange, more fibre than an apple and more potassium than in a banana. Not only that, but unlike rice and pasta, they are also a local product, so by buying them we are supporting Irish growers and reducing our food miles all at the same time. In your face, sweet potato imports.

shutterstock_159398351 Source: Shutterstock/Tatiana Volgutova

Similar to the situation with apples (as I wrote about last week), spuds have become hugely homogenised and I think this is part of the problem. Perhaps we’d find them more exciting if we moved beyond the standard one or two varieties and started sampling the huge range of different spud varieties that nature has to offer.

Here in GIY we’ve been doing our bit to help the nation rediscover its spud love. Our national Spud

Off competition in association with Bord Bia has been running over the summer in communities all over Ireland, attempting to find Ireland’s Top Tuber.

At the Spud Off final in this year’s GROW Fest our judges (Mark Diacono, Lia Leendertz, Gary Graham, Fiann O’Nuallain and Sally Sweeney) munched their way through home-grown spuds submitted by 15 GIY groups, scoring each one on flavour, looks, smell and our favourite criteria – overall spudtasticness!

spud 1

The final was a celebration of home-grown spud diversity – varieties like British Queens, Sharpes Express, Blue Danube, Pentland Javelin, Orla, Charlotte and many more.

The winning spud was the variety Colleen and grown by Siobhan Magner from GIY Cork. Her prize? A much coveted Golden Mr Potato Head of course.

spud 2

 Things to do this Week – Plant a Fruit Tree

October to March is the time to plant a new fruit tree, as the trees are dormant. Heres how to do it:

1) Dig a hole deep enough to accommodate the root system of the tree comfortably – when the tree is placed in the hole, the grafting point (the small bulge at the base of the tree which indicates where the tree was grafted on to the rootstock) should be just above ground level.

2) Add some garden compost or well rotted farmyard manure to the base of the hole and mix it in with the soil there.

3) Sit the tree in the hole and knock in a sturdy post about 3 inches away from the tree. Backfill the hole with a mix of the soil and some compost. Firm in the soil with your boot.

4) Use a tree-tie to attach the tree to the stake – you can also use a pair of tights. Do not use a cable tie as they will cut the bark on the tree as the tree grows. The tie will need to be slackened off as the tree grows and the support can generally be removed a year or two later.

shutterstock_90938276 Source: Shutterstock/Pinkcandy

Recipe of the Week – Garden Veg Soup

This is my go-to veg soup. As long as you stick to the general quantities, you can mix things up depending on what veg you have at hand. I find this recipe great for using up gluts of courgettes in particular.

Ingredients

 200g potatoes

 200g carrots

 200g onions

 200g courgettes

 100g celery

 1.2l stock (veg or chicken)

Directions

Peel and then dice all the vegetables in to roughly the same size chunks. Melt a decent knob of butter in a large saucepan and when it foams add the veg.

Season with salt and pepper and stir well to ensure all the veg are well coated in the melted butter. Cover with a lid and cook on a medium heat for 10 minutes or until the veg has softened.

Then add the stock and simmer on a low heat for about 20 minutes. Blitz with a hand blender until it is at the consistency you like. I like a few veg chunks left in mine! Check the seasoning again and then serve.

Tip of the Week – Storing Carrots in the Ground

Though many people lift their carrots at this time of the year and store them in sand, it is possible (and maybe even preferable) to store them in the ground where they grew. In fact, a cold spell forces them to sweeten because the carrot concentrates its sugars to survive the cold. The key is to put a very thick layer of mulch (straw or leaves) on top of the carrot bed. Otherwise the frost will blacken the roots.

Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY. You can enter your #growityourselfie to be in with a chance to win a Renault 100% Electric Fluence EV car. All you need to do is upload a selfie that celebrates your growing triumphs (or tragedies?) to Twitter using the hashtag #growityourselfie and we will shortlist the best for public vote at the end of September. At the same time you can also help us to fund GROW HQ – our food education centre in Waterford – by texting GIY to 57802. Texts cost €2 per SMS. A minimum of €1.38 goes to GIY. Thanks for all your support. 

Read: Pear and chocolate jam I can make in under 45 minutes? What’s not to love?>

Read: ‘People with disabilities and the homeless aren’t being taken care of because of your vote’>

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About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Gardener

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