When I was an eager little scholar at the village school in Cullohill, Co Laois,  in the mid 1950’s, we all learned a variety of life skills, Miss Carroll showed generations of girls how to knit and sew, turn the heels of socks, do meticulous buttonholes and delicate embroidery.  Where oh where is the little gingham apron I made and the dirndl skirt which was my pride and joy. 
When Spring came around we were brought out into the field behind the school which served as a playground to learn how to sow potatoes. While the boys helped to dig the ground, the girls learned how to cut the ‘scoláns’ (seed potatoes) so there was an eye or sprout on each piece.   We planted them into the ground and heaped up the drills, then got on with our school work.  We kept an eye out and they sprouted and grew.
Nowadays academic skills are valued much more than life skills, most adults, not to speak of children, have totally lost track of how food is produced and where it comes from.   How fortunate are the kids who go to schools that have a garden patch.  I dream that every school will have a vegetable patch so children can learn the excitement of sowing a seed and watching it grow.
This week, Minister for Food and Horticulture, Trevor Sargent, launched a terrific initiative to celebrate the ‘Year of the Potato’.   A potato growing kit has been sent (courtesy of An Post) to every national school in the country, a brilliant idea dreamed up by Agri-Aware.     It was a huge logistical operation.   Can you imagine delivering sixty tons of compost, two tons of seed potatoes, eight thousand growing bags and classroom wall charts to almost 4,000 primary schools across the country.

Pupils and their teachers all over the country have by now been challenged to sow the seed potatoes in February and are hoping to harvest their crop in June.  The pupils will create a class scrapbook and monitor the potato plant’s progress with diagrams, photographs and written observations. The harvested crop will then be washed and weighed and the scrapbook sent for assessment.  Participating schools have the chance to win over €10,000 to develop a school garden. 
The aim of the ‘Meet the Spuds’ initiative is to educate primary pupils on how potatoes grow and their nutritional, historical and cultural importance in Ireland.  Pupils from three Dublin schools, Gael Scoil Balbriggan, Pope John Paul’s School, Malahide and St. Brigid’s in the Coombe,  arrived at the Jeanie Johnston Famine ship on 5th February 2008 for a spud voyage to learn about the importance of the potato in Irish life over the last 150 years.  They were entertained by Darragh McCullough of ‘Ear to the Ground’, Paula Mee, Nutritionist and Michael Hennessey of Teagasc.     They got the kids all excited about the potato and the importance of this magic tuber in Irish life over the last 150 years. 
The potato is the fourth most important food crop in the world, the Irish consume more spuds per head than any other country in Europe.  ‘Meet the Spuds’ is an excellent opportunity for teachers to encourage healthy eating among their pupils and educate them about Irish farming in a practical and hands-on manner.  Agri-Aware Chairman, Mairead Lavery and Padraig Walsh, President of the IFA were also very excited about the project.
Let’s hope this sows the seeds for a love of gardening in our kids and young people – lets have cooking classes in all our schools next Minister!

Baked Potatoes

Serves 8

Better not to wrap baked potatoes in tin foil as this softens the skins and spoils the flavour; it can even make them wet and soapy.

8 x 225g (8oz) old potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
sea salt and butter

Choose large potatoes. Scrub the skins of the potatoes very well. Prick each potato 3 or 4 times and bake in a preheated hot oven 2001C/4001F/gas mark 6 for 1 hour approx. depending on the size. When cooked, serve immediately while skins are still crisp and make sure to eat the skins with lots of butter and sea salt.

There are so many good things to eat with baked potatoes, here are just a few suggestions.

1.         Garlic mayonnaise with tuna fish
2.         Garlic butter with crispy rasher
3.         Creme Fraiche with smoked salmon and chives
4.         Creme Fraiche with roast pepper and a drizzle of pesto
5.         Creme Fraiche with hot crispy chorizo and chives

Potato and Fresh Herb Soup

Serves 6


Most people would have potatoes and onions in the house even if the cupboard was otherwise bare so one could make this simply delicious soup at a moment’s notice.


55g (2oz) butter

425g (15oz) peeled diced potatoes, one-third inch dice

110g (4oz) diced onions, one-third inch dice

1 teaspoon salt

freshly ground pepper

1-2 tablespoons in total of the following; parsley, thyme, lemon balm and chives

900ml (1½pints) home-made chicken stock or vegetable stock

120ml (4fl oz) creamy milk


freshly chopped herbs and some chive or thyme flowers in season


Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes and onions and toss them in the butter until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cover with a butter wrapper or paper lid and the lid of the saucepan. Sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes approx. Meanwhile bring the stock to the boil, when the vegetables are soft but not coloured add the freshly chopped herbs and stock and continue to cook until the vegetables are soft. Puree the soup in a blender or food processor. Taste and adjust seasoning. Thin with creamy milk to the required consistency.

Serve sprinkled with a few freshly-chopped herbs and some chive or thyme flowers in season.


Potato and Roast Red Pepper Soup


Serves 6


Basic recipe as above, omit the herbs.


4 red peppers

sprigs of flat parsley


Roast or chargrill the pepper, peel and deseed, save the sweet juices carefully puree the flesh with the juices. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Make the soup as in the original recipe.

Just before serving swirl the red pepper puree through the soup or simply drizzle on top of each bowl. Top with some snipped flat parsley you might try adding one or two roast chilli to the pepper for a little extra buzz – Serrano or Jalapeno are good.


Potato and Parsley Soup

Omit herbs in the soup.

Add 2-3 tablespoons of freshly chopped parsley to the soup just before blending.


Potato and Mint Soup
Omit herbs in the soup.

Add 2-3 tablespoons of spearmint or bowles mint to the soup just before blending. Sprinkle a little chopped mint and a swirl of soft cream over the soup before serving.


Potato and Tarragon Soup
Add 1½ tablespoons of tarragon to the soup with the stock. Puree and finish as in the master recipe. Sprinkle a little freshly snipped tarragon over the top of the soup before serving. A zig zag of soft cream is also delicious.


Potato, Chorizo and Parsley Soup
We love Fingal Ferguson’s Gubbeen chorizo, so much that we dream up all sorts of ways of using it. The strong hot spicy taste adds lots of oomph to the silky potato soup.


18 Slices of chorizo

snipped flat parsley sprigs


Omit the herbs in the original recipe. Just before serving cook the slices of chorizo for a minute or two on each side on a non stick pan, oil will render out of the chorizo.

Serve three slices of chorizo on top of each bowl, sprinkle a few flat parsley sprigs on top,  drizzle a little chorizo oil haphazardly over the soup and serve immediately.


Potato and Melted Leek Soup

Serve a spoonful of melted leeks on top of each helping of soup. Scatter with snipped chives and chive flowers in season.


Potato Soup with Parsley Pesto

One of Rory O’ Connell’s way to embellish potato soup. Drizzle a little parsley pesto  over the top of each bowl just as it goes to the table.



Ulster Champ


Serves 8

1.8kg (4 lbs) ‘old’ potatoes eg. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
450g (1 lb) young peas, shelled weight
8 tablespoons chopped parsley
600ml (1pint) milk
salt and freshly ground pepper
50-110g (2-4ozs) butter (traditionally, strong country butter would have been used)

Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until tender, drain well, dry over the heat in the pan for a few minutes, peel and mash with most of the butter while hot. Meanwhile bring the milk to the boil and simmer the peas until just cooked, 8-10 minutes approx. Add the parsley for the final 2 minutes of cooking. Add the hot milk mixture to the potatoes. Season well, beat until creamy and smooth and serve piping hot with a lump of butter melting in the centre.


Potato Wedges with Sweet Chilli Sauce & Sour Cream



Serves 4

1½lbs (680g) rustic roast potatoes (see recipe below)
Sweet Chilli Sauce
Sour cream

To Serve
When the rustic roast potatoes are crisp and golden.  Drain on absorbent kitchen paper.  Season with salt.
Serve immediately in a deep bowl with a little bowl of sweet chilli sauce and sour cream on each plate.

Note: Deep-fried cooked potato may be used instead.

Rustic Roast Potatoes

Serves 4-6

6 large ‘old’ potatoes eg. Golden Wonder or Kerrs Pinks

Olive oil or beef dripping (unless for Vegetarians)-duck or goose fat are also delicious

Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/regulo 8.   Scrub the potatoes well, cut into quarters lengthways or cut into thick rounds ¾ inch (2cm) approx.   Put into a roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil and toss so they are barely coated with olive oil.   Roast in a preheated oven for 30-45 minutes depending on size.  Sprinkle with sea salt and serve in a hot terracotta dish.

Rustic Roast Potatoes with Rosemary

6 – 8 rosemary sprigs

Add a few sprigs of rosemary or some coarsely chopped rosemary with the olive oil and proceed as above.  Serve garnished with fresh sprig of rosemary.

Rustic Roast Potatoes with Garlic Cloves

18 garlic cloves

Proceed as above, add the garlic after the potatoes have been cooking for 10 – 15 minutes. Toss in the oil.  Keep an eye on the garlic cloves, they will probably be cooked before the potatoes, if so remove and keep warm in a serving dish.    

Press the soft sweet garlic out of the skins and eat with the crispy potatoes

Hot Tips

Samhlaíocht 2008 Easter Arts Festival, Tralee, Co Kerry
Samhlaiocht is actively involved in community based arts projects that involve working with individuals, groups and schools in the organization of cultural and artistic events.

This year’s theme is ‘Planet Earth’ – the festival will include a Multicultural Slow Food Event on Saturday 22/23 March at KDYS, Denny St. Tralee, Co Kerry.  They are seeking food vendors to take stands at the event – for more details contact June Carey or Karen Maunsell, Samhlaiocht, The Old Presbytery,

20 Lower Castle St.

, Tralee, Co Kerry, Tel. 066-7129934


Cork Free Choice Consumer Group
Anyone who would like to receive notice of forthcoming Cork Free Choice Consumer Group meetings please contact – Helen McGonigal at hcmg@eircom.net  – unfortunately the email addresses have all been lost due to a computer crash – so those who have been on the mailing list in the past also need to contact Helen.


Fairtrade Fortnight 25 February – 9th March 2008
Recent years have seen a huge growth in support for, and availability for FAIRTRADE Mark products. Much of this support is driven by the activities of volunteers and voluntary groups around Ireland. At the moment there are 61 Fairtrade Towns Committees in Ireland and 31 of them have met the criteria to become Fairtrade Towns.During  Fairtrade Fortnight 2008 many of these groups are organising events in their areas and welcoming producers from developing countries to their towns.  Look out for events in your local area – www.fairtrade.ie 

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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