Shetland Black, Mayan Gold, Rocket, Mary’s Rose, Charlotte and Anya, Pink Fir Apple, Sharpe’s Express, Pentland Javelin or King Edward. Just the names can evoke memories of warm summer salads or jacket potatoes raked from the bonfire embers. Choose your own varieties to grow, to match the dishes you enjoy cooking and eating. When cooking potatoes, it’s not a one size fits all – depending on whether you’re in the money for mash, chips, baked in their jacket or just plain boiled.
There are more than 4,000 varieties of native potatoes, mostly found in the Andes. They come in many sizes and shapes. There are also over 180 wild potato species; though they are too bitter to eat, their important biodiversity includes natural resistances to pests, diseases, and climatic conditions. cipotato.org/crops/potato/potato-facts-and-figures Here in the UK we have over 500 varieties although only about 80 are grown commercially, many for specific purposes (french fries for example).
Here in Wales we have our own protected food name Pembrokeshire Earlies. “It is the mild climate of Pembrokeshire which enables Pembrokeshire Earlies/Pembrokeshire Early Potatoes to be grown and harvested early in the year, their short growing time and freshness producing a distinctive taste which has historically, and is currently, in strong demand.”
So your own soil and growing conditions will contribute to the taste and yield of your chosen variety. You can check out characteristics, the breeder and antecedents from the AHDB Potato Variety database for resisitance to key pests and diseases. http://varieties.ahdb.org.uk/
Not only are there different categories – first earlies, second earlies and maincrop to decide when to plant and crop but for the homegrower also type or texture. Classed as ‘floury’ vs ‘waxy’ this characteristic (or water content described as dry matter) determines how the variety cooks. Waxy potatoes hold their shape when boiled whereas floury tend to disintegrate into the water. However roast potatoes need their fluffy coat for the crispy covering.
We encourage you, even if you only have a small patch, to grow a small crop of very early potatoes to gain the most in flavour and pennies in your pocket.
We like Red Duke of York, baked in their skins to balls of fluff with a dollop of sour cream & chives. Or Carlingford, firm and waxy; boiled and doused in mint or parsley butter. Charlotte is the most popular salad potato in the UK; slightly waxy, they hold their shape well and are delicious hot or cold. Casablanca, a new white fleshed first early, very versatile it can be boiled, baked or chipped. Sarpo Potatoes are a unique family of varieties developed for their superb taste; all able to resist potato blight and be easy to grow for any gardener or allotment holder
There will be a variety to suit your taste, try one (potato, two potato, three potato, more!). Buy your seed potatoes as soon as you can before your favourites sell out. Keep them in a frost free environment until you’re ready to get them started. (We’ll give you some tips for growing potatoes next week).