PEI, it’s potato country here – it’s a big part of who we are as an island, a big part of who we are as a cultureKendra Mills, Marketing Director, PEI Potato Board
The first thing, the very first thing that Grant, my endlessly amiable guide did when I landed on Prince Edward Island – before lunch, before a cup of tea, even – was to whisk me off to the offices of the PEI Potato Board. He explained later that, while he had escorted many visitors around the island, each with their own agenda, I was the first he had encountered with quite such a singular focus on spuds. And I wondered – as a dedicated potatophile might – why that would be, for here on PEI – potato capital of Canada, Idaho of the north – there is an awful lot for the spud-minded to see.
Well now, this post has been a long time coming. Having been sucked into the black hole that is house renovation, the Daily Spud has become closer to the monthly spud, while prospective posts have languished on the proverbial back burner. Now that I have acquired an actual back burner – along with the kitchen to go with it, and of which more anon – it’s time to fire things up again. First stop PEI – Prince Edward Island – which, through the good offices of the Canadian Tourism Commission, I had the great pleasure of visiting back in May.
I reckon that the Irish settlers who came to PEI in the 1700s and 1800s – all 10,000 or more of them, according to the Irish Settlers’ Memorial in PEI’s capital, Charlottetown – probably felt at home. Or at least as at home as you can feel when you’re several thousand miles away on the other side of the Atlantic.
There are many things you might find yourself doing on a Saturday morning – being a guest, this past Saturday, of broadcasting legend Dave Fanning on his weekend radio show on RTE’s 2FM was one of the less usual (and, as it turns out, more enjoyable) of those things. I was on the show to talk about these lads:
It was a topic prompted by this recent article in the Irish Independent (where I also managed to get my spake in) and, in turn, by no less than the recently held World Chip Championships in Limerick. Though it’s unlike me to miss such a momentous spud event, I did get to meet chip enthusiast Lema Murphy – declared winner of the Champion-Chips with her triple cooked beauties, served with baked bean and bacon sauce and deep fried egg yolk – and who was also a guest on Dave’s show. You can listen back to our chip chat on the RTE radio player, from about 1h 18m 30 in.
And if you were wondering how I could manage to miss such a thing as the World Chip Championships, it was owing to the fact that I was out of the country conducting some international chip investigations of my own…
It would be a slight exaggeration to say that I went all the way to Toronto just to have chips.
In fact (get me!) I travelled to Canada, through the good offices of the Canadian Tourism Commission, principally to visit Prince Edward Island, where they do a very good line in all things spud (and of which you’ll hear more over the coming weeks). However, having taken the opportunity to visit Canada’s biggest city – and ever keen to broaden my spud horizons – I did make a point of having chips (or fries, to use the local lingo) when I got there. Not just any old fries, though, but that particularly Canadian creation, poutine.
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Gloriously big and gloriously bonkers.
That’s what I thought when news reached my ears last Thursday that plans were afoot in Carrick on Shannon to break the record for the world’s biggest (or rather, heaviest) potato pancake. I’ll admit that I didn’t know such a record officially existed (but, according to the Guinness Book of Records it does, covering all regional variations of potato pancake, of which there are many) and, up to last Friday at least, it had stood at a rather hefty 200kg – which is a lot of pancake in anyone’s book.
The organisers of the Carrick Carnival – and chief among them Chef Sham Hanifa of the charming Cottage Restaurant in Jamestown, Co. Leitrim – decided that they wanted to go several kilos better than that by (as you do) making a supersized batch of boxty, Leitrim’s local take on the potato pancake. Sham, in turn, enlisted the help of Mr. Leitrim Boxty himself, Pádraic Óg Gallagher of Gallagher’s Boxty House, to assist in the construction of a true boxty behemoth.
And so it was that last Friday, I took myself off to the northwest and to a covered area beside the quay in Carrick on Shannon, where potatoes were being peeled, grated, mashed and mixed on a grand scale. This is how the record attempt went down.
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Blame it on my kitchen.
That’s the reply I feel like giving every week when the reminder from Facebook pops up to tell me that likers of The Daily Spud haven’t heard from me in a while. Gee thanks Facebook, but there’s no need to rub it in – I am keenly aware of the fact that spud activity has been somewhat sporadic of late, but I’d like to think that, ultimately, it’s for the greater spud good.
Which brings me back to my kitchen, or current lack thereof. It goes something like this:
Turn left at the green balloons…
Those were the directions given to the taxi driver. It was just as well he said – his sat nav wanted to send him elsewhere, but the balloons clearly marked the location in Comber, Co. Down, of Mash Direct, where, earlier this month, the great and the good of Comber, Belfast and beyond gathered to celebrate ten years of turning good potatoes into better business.
I pictured myself and a capacity stadium crowd being fed personally by Neven, and it seemed like that might be a stretch – even for one of Ireland’s best loved chefs and quite possibly the nicest man in the Irish food business. As it turns out, the crowd was rather smaller – more like 15 than 50,000 – and (get me!) we were lunching in the intimate surrounds of a corporate box, with the breadth of the Aviva as a backdrop, and Mr. Maguire for company (as my sister later put it, I had gone from nought to Neven, and in only five (blogging) years too; jammy was the other description that sprang to mind, which was exactly how it felt to have homemade jammie dodgers à la Neven round off the meal).
If potatoes had personalities, you might describe them as a patient lot. Forget to dig them in autumn and they might surprise you come spring with their belated bounty.
And so it was this weekend. Though the potato calendar may have pointed to planting – and recent Potato Days, such as those at the Organic Centre in Co. Leitrim and at Sonairte in Co. Meath, provided both the spur to sow and the seeds to sow with – it was harvesting that was the name of this Spud Sunday’s game.