Sure it never rains but it pours. And while that old adage could be applied, literally, to the winter we’ve just had, over the past week, it has also been true of life in the spud lane.
It includes the clip above, for a program which will see me passing across the nation’s TV screens on Mon. Feb 24th (and more of that anon), but it started last Tuesday, with the I.F.A.’s National Potato Conference, and continued with a flurry of media reportage over the following days. Though, sadly, I could not attend the conference myself – there was the small matter of the day job, which keeps me in the spuds to which I have become accustomed – I think that the essence of what was said at the conference echoed the same event two years ago: we need to tackle falling levels of spud consumption and do what we can to promote the potato (because, y’know, it’s a damn fine thing to eat, as things to eat go).
The latest development in this respect is a commitment made by various interested parties – the Irish Potato Federation, the Irish Farmer’s Association and Bord Bia – to prepare an application for EU co-funding to support a €1M potato promotion campaign over the next three years, which will reflect the potato’s versatility and health benefits and, if all goes according to plan, stimulate long term consumer demand for spuds.***
We can get so blasé about food these days.
Bread or beans or beef or bananas – from the bleurgh to the bon appetit – it’s just stuff we eat, right?
And when things are a bit Mother Hubbard, we can nip to the supermarket, grab a takeaway or use our nearest ‘net connection to hunt and gather without leaving the couch – point, click, sorted.
So it’s easy to forget that food takes time (beyond the delay between order and arrival of your 16-inch pepperoni special, that is). If you cook, and you do so from scratch rather than bunging a few bits in the microwave, the time-in-food-out equation starts to look different, with more time spent often balanced by greater value placed on the end result; even more so if you grow or rear any of the food involved (spend months defending your patch of green from garden invaders and you savour the survivors greatly). It’s the kind of premise on which the Slow Food movement was built and which gets GIY-ers going in their gardens.
And all from my cup of tea.
So ends the ‘Madeleine episode‘ in Marcel Proust‘s novel, Remembrance of Things Past, where, upon having a bit of cake with his cuppa, the bould Marcel is put in mind of an earlier cake at an earlier time, and waxes lyrical and long, over the seven volumes that it takes him to complete the novel, on involuntary memory – those things that trigger recollections without conscious effort. (***)
Now if you are curious as to how I plan to get from Proust to potatoes – and I did wonder about that myself – do bear with me. It will take a lot less than seven volumes, and it also starts with a cup of tea.
Get a load of those zeroes, man.
I’ll bet there aren’t many of us who would object to such a nicely rounded addition to their bank balance. Especially when all they would have to do in return, more or less, was come up with a new, winning flavour for a packet of crisps. No illegal activity required or anything, like.
You would, unsurprisingly, have to compete against a great many others in this endeavour – millions of them, perhaps – but still, worth a shot, eh? A possibility that comes with that many zeroes attached is – much like a newly opened packet of crisps – hard to resist. And you would certainly figure that I, in my daily spudness, would be all over it. Except, the thing is, I’m not.
I started reading Rachel Laudan’s Cuisine & Empire the other day. It is, as the title might suggest, epic in range, tracking the spread of key cuisines across the globe in what is a broad, sweeping history of cooking.
A dense, scholarly tome – think small fonts, few pictures, and reams of references – it’s not what you’d necessarily want to skim through over your morning cornflakes but, to be honest, its solidity and substance make a change from the day-to-day scatter of information delivered and consumed in tweets and sound bites. And despite ranging across countries far and centuries wide, it brought to mind something closer to home – a visit I made in December to Higgin’s Butchers in Sutton.
As I sat down to write this, I got a distinct feeling of déjà vu.
Sure enough, as I looked through my back catalogue, a post written this time two years ago features a white winter soup with potato and celeriac, and words about the kind of simple food we want to eat in the aftermath of the Christmas season. Yesterday, history repeated itself and I made a similar kind of soup for similar kinds of reasons. Not exactly the same – life never is, quite – but, nevertheless, it fulfilled the same, warming purpose.
So here it is, the first post of a brand new year. It’s lean and it’s mean, in line with the convention that dictates an end to seasonal silliness and a return to more subdued, slimline selves. Under normal circumstances, this entry would have been preceded by one of those big annual review type posts, bridging the gap between Christmas roastiness and January resolve, but the turn of the year brought a turn of events that dictated otherwise, so I will briefly summarise 2013 thus: I wrote, I spoke, I travelled, I judged, I cooked, I ate, I pickled, I fermented – and all in the name of the spud.
‘Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the ‘net,
They googled for roasties, the best they could get.
Which spud to choose, to avoid roastie blunders?
Roosters or Pinks, Maris or Wonders?
Goose fat or dripping? Oil or butter?
Who reigns supreme, in the smoke and the splutter?
And lo, there’s Heston, Jamie and crew,
All armed with advice on just what to do.
Parboil and ruffle, steam ’til they’re dry,
Then into the oven and roast ‘em on high.
Serve with the trimmings, the turkey and ham,
Piled onto the plate in a glorious cram.
Feast yourself silly, with roasties galore,
Crispy and Christmas and here once more.
You’ll forgive, I hope, the indulgence in a bit of cheesy seasonal rhyme. It marks this year’s edition of an event that has become almost as predictable as Christmas itself – the Daily Spud roastie post.