British Queens for Sale

British Queens for sale - the sign on the side of the road both amused and perplexed our UK visitors. 

A gorgeous bowl of floury new potatoes in the centre of the kitchen table always makes my heart skip – There’s something about new potatoes that brings memories from my childhood flooding back. Pad digging the first new potatoes in the vegetable garden – ‘balls of flour’ he’d declare proudly, and then after the first taste he’d bless himself and solemnly mutter, ‘Please God may we all be as well this time next year’.

I particularly remember a variety called Skerry Champions, yellowy flesh with dark purple eyes, I’ve searched high and low for seed in recent years but have never been able to find it (If any reader knows a source I’d be so delighted to hear from you.)

I adore the ubiquitous potato, the world’s favourite and most under-appreciated vegetable, which has nourished and sustained the Irish nation for hundreds of years.

We depended on it the exclusion of everything else, with the result that when the crop failed, disaster struck in the catastrophic famines of the 1840’s. The effect was incalculable, millions died or emigrated, yet the potato is still an integral part of our culture, our folklore and our civilization. It is still not unusual to be served potato cooked in three ways as part of a meal in a country hotel – mash, roast and chips.

Yet the search for a really good potato as we knew it becomes ever more difficult, many old varieties are lost, their low yields meant that they were not commercially viable, consequently they were disregarded in an ever intensifying battle to compete against cheap imports.

Sadly, many Irish potato growers got locked into an impossible ‘Catch 22’ situation. In a desperate effort to boost yields, they increased the nitrogen levels, but the resulting potatoes, although bigger had less flavour, and kept less well. The Irish housewife increasingly turned to pasta and rice as they tired of having to discard a percentage of almost every bag of potatoes.
Its like everything else, if we want potatoes like ‘they used to be’ we need to seek out old varieties, and farmers who use little or no nitrogen, and most importantly we need to pay them more because really good Irish potato varieties yield less but taste better. Look out for British Queens, Kerrs’ Pinks in August and floury Golden Wonders in September. If you are fortunate enough to have a Farmers’ Market in your area, you may find a passionate grower with small quantities of splendid old varieties. I particularly love Pink Fir Apple and Sharpe’s Express. Recently in the Skibbereen Market I bought a few pounds of Ratte, Desiree and Charlotte and we simply had potatoes for supper with lots of butter and flakes of Maldon sea salt.

The Ballycotton area has long been famous for its potatoes. If you’d like to taste an almost forgotten flavour, call to Patrick Walsh’s farm in Shanagarry, Co Cork, or join the queue around Willie Scannell’s stall in the Midleton Farmers’ Market every Saturday from 9-1.30.

Alison Henderson’s Ardsallagh Goats Cheese, Potato and Mint Tart

This gorgeous quiche is a permanent favourite at the Ballymaloe Shop Café
Serves: 6-8
Savoury pastry (makes enough to line 2 deep 30cm (11inch) tart tins)
285g (10oz) plain flour
170g (6oz) butter, chilled and diced
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons of icing sugar
1 free range egg, beaten
200g (7oz) Ardsallagh Goats Cheese
6 free range eggs, beaten
12 waxy, new potatoes, boiled
small tub of cream 170ml ( ¼ pint approx.)
170ml ( ¼ pint approx) milk
bunch of fresh mint, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 x 28cm (11inch) tart tin
Preheat oven to 180C/350F/gas 4

Pulse the top 4 ingredients in a food processor until they resemble coarse breadcrumbs. Add the egg and pulse again until the mixture begins to come together. Then tip the dough onto a piece of cling film. Shape into a log, wrap and refrigerate, preferably overnight. The next day line the tart tin with the dough and blind bake, (without foil or beans) at 200C/400F/gas 6 for 5-6 minutes. Keep an eye on it and remove from the oven before it dries out too much. If it fissures it can be patched, but this quiche mix is quite thick so it shouldn’t ooze too much anyway.
Boil the potatoes until cooked. Drain and set aside. Cut the goats cheese into cubes 1 cm ( ½ inch) approx.

Mix the eggs, milk, cream, mint, salt and pepper in a bowl. Let stand 15 –20 minutes to allow the mint to infuse the custard mix.

To assemble
Halve the cooked potatoes. Line the tart base with the potatoes and cubed goats cheese. Pour the custard mixture into the tart, not totally covering the potatoes. Allow them to jut out of the mixture. Bake in a preheated at 180C/350F/gas 4 for 25-30 minutes until set and golden round the edge.
Allow to cool slightly.
Serve with a good green salad and Cranberry sauce.

Sean O’Criadain’s Potato and Thyme Leaf Salad

Serves 6 approx.
Scant quart cooked potatoes peeled and cut into 2 inch (5mm) dice
4 fl ozs (120ml/2 cup) fruity Extra Virgin olive oil
1-2 tablespoons thyme leaves and thyme flowers if available
Salt and pepper to taste
Toss the potatoes in a good Extra Virgin olive oil while still warm. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Sprinkle liberally with fresh thyme leaves and thyme flowers.

Crusty Potatoes with Ginger and Garlic
In parts of India they eat almost as many potatoes as the Irish, but they don't just boil or roast them - many are deliciously spiced. This recipe which was given to me by Madhur Jaffrey is one of my favourites.

Serves 4-5
12 lbs (675g) 'old' potatoes - Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
Piece of fresh ginger, about 2 x 1 x 1 inch (5 x 2.5 x 2.5cm), peeled and coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3 tablesp. water
2 teasp. ground turmeric
1 teasp. salt
1-2 teasp. cayenne pepper
5 tablesp. sunflower or peanut oil
1 teasp. whole fennel seeds (optional)
Boil the potatoes in their jackets until just cooked. Drain them and let them cool. Peel the potatoes and cut them into :-1 inch (2-2.5cm) dice.

Put the chopped fresh ginger, crushed garlic, water, turmeric, salt and cayenne pepper into the container of a food processor, blend to a paste.

Heat the oil in a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium flame. When hot, put in the fennel seeds. Let them sizzle for a few seconds (careful not to let them burn) add in the spice paste. Stir and fry for 2 minutes. Put in the potatoes. Stir and fry for 5-7 minutes over a medium-high flame or until the potatoes have a nice, golden-brown crust. Sprinkle with chopped parsley or coriander. Serve on their own, perhaps with Cucumber and Yoghurt Raita or as an accompaniment to grilled or roast meat.

Roast Potato Salad

4lbs (1.8kg) potatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tablesp. freshly chopped rosemary
salt and freshly ground pepper
5 fl oz (150ml) home made mayonnaise and
2 ½ fl ozs (63ml) French Dressing
or all French Dressing
3 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley
3 tablespoons chopped scallions
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Preheat the oven to 250ºC/475ºF/Gas mark 9

Scrub the potatoes. Cut into large dice, toss in olive oil and chopped rosemary. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast the potatoes for 15 minutes, toss and turn over the potatoes. Continue to roast until crisp and golden on the outside. Remove from the tin and allow to cool.

Mix the mayonnaise with the chopped parsley, scallions and crushed garlic. Thin with French dressing. Toss the potatoes in the dressing. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Taste and correct seasoning if necessary.

Waxy Potatoes with Capers

Maggie Beer, who was our guest chef at the school recently demonstrated this delicious recipe. This dish is totally dependent on quality of the yellow-fleshed potatoes.
Look for waxy potatoes, eg. Pink Fir Apple, Ratte.
1 kg small, waxy potatoes, washed well
2½ fl.ozs (65ml) extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons small capers well rinsed
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt (optional)

Boil the potatoes until they are tender, then drain. Toss the pan over
heat for a moment to dry potatoes thoroughly, then sprinkle in the
verjuice (see Hot Tips) and allow it to sizzle. Cut the warm potatoes in half so that they will absorb the oil and return them to the pan. Add the other ingredients and toss well. Turn into a hot dish and serve.

Darina Allen’s Back to Basics

Pink Fir Apple Potatoes

One of the simplest and most delicious ways of eating new potatoes is with butter and sea salt. Halen Môn new smoked salt from Wales is a real taste sensation and Maldon Sea Salt is an old favourite.
This is one of several old potato varieties that we grow every year in the kitchen garden. The flavour is superb they are thin and knobbly with a slightly pink skin. They are usually about 1" inch in diameter and can be up to 6" inch long. Pink Fir apple are waxy in texture so are good for potato salad. 

1 lb (450g) Pink Fir Apple potatoes
Maldon Sea salt or Halen Môn Smoked Sea salt – see Hot Tips
Scrub the potatoes well. Boil in well salted water until cooked through - 15-20 minutes approx. Serve immediately with sea salt and lots of butter. 

We sometimes cut them lengthwise and toss them in butter or extra virgin olive oil and sea salt before serving. 

Hot Tips
Verjuice (made from the juice of green grapes picked when they are very tart) is an ingredient which dates back to the Middle Ages. In commercially produced Verjuice the grapes are crushed and the juice is then stabilised and bottled, it improves with age. Verjuice is available from the Crawford Gallery Café or Ballymaloe Cookery School Garden Shop.
Halen Môn Sea Salt – Anglesey Sea Salt Co., Halen Môn, Brynsiencyn, Anglesey, Ynys Môn, LL61 6TQ. Tel 00 44 1248 430871 

Maldon Sea Salt – The Maldon Crystal Salt Co. Ltd, Maldon, Essex, UK.  

Farmleigh -. The Summer Programme at Farmleigh in the Phoenix Park runs from July to October – July’s theme is Music, August – Gardens, September - Food at Farmleigh – Bord Bia is sponsoring the food element which will include a Celebrity Kitchen, Food Fair, The Art of Food and much, much more food for thought. October ‘s theme is writers at Farmleigh. All local libraries have brochures of the events – the brochure includes details of how to apply for tickets for the various events – so don’t delay in picking one up.

Jet Magic now fly to and from Cork Belfast 6 days a week (morning and afternoon Monday to Friday and morning only on Saturday. On a recent trip we were surprised and delighted to be offered sweeties before take off, a selection of sandwiches and complimentary drinks were served during the flight by sweet and friendly air hostesses who appeared to really enjoy looking after us. All this plus hot towels and choccies were part of the service on a 35 minute flight from Cork to Belfast City Airport.  or 021-432 9776 

Now there’s no longer any excuse not to pop up North, see the Giants Causeway, the Mussenden Temple and the beautiful Antrim Coast……..

If you want some hot tips on where to eat, shop and stay, seek out a copy of the Bridgestone Food Lovers Guide to Northern Ireland.  

Coming up soon at Ballymaloe Cookery School
1 week Introductory Courses – Part 2 14-18 July.

Gardens open every day 10-6

Course Schedule 2003  Tel 021-4646785

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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