Few people know as much about the potato as Aoife Cox. She runs the hugely enjoyable website ‘The Daily Spud’, is a judge for Irish potato competition ‘The Big Spud Off’ (sound familiar?) and is the Irish media’s number one go-to girl for all things potato. We caught up with her to talk about the humble spud…
Your blog, The Daily Spud, is a runaway success. What inspired you to start blogging about potatoes?
To be honest, it started as an Irish identity thing. I didn’t set out to write about potatoes specifically, but I wanted to distinguish the blog as Irish, and if there’s one food that people associate with Ireland, it’s the potato. Having called my blog The Daily Spud, however, it seemed only natural to give potatoes a bit of attention, so I started writing a regular ‘Spud Sunday’ feature. The more I wrote, the more I got interested. The rest, as they say, is a very spud-filled history.
Do you ever worry that you might run out of potato news?
I probably worried more about that in the beginning than I do now – after 5 years, I guess I’ve accumulated a lot of spud resources to draw on. That includes at least one shelf of books that all have the word potato in the title. Sad, possibly, but very true.
Why is the potato so important to the people of Ireland?
Well, it starts with the fact that a great many generations of Irish families really did survive on spuds – they suited the climate, they were easy to grow and you could feed more people using less land than other staple crops. There’s also no avoiding the fact that the potato (or failure thereof) will forever be associated with the Famine of the 1840s, one of the most significant events in Irish history. You could say that spuds are part of our psyche, even though we don’t depend on them anything like as much as we used to.
We’ve heard many tales of dangerous sounding alcohol made from the humble potato by Irish hands. Have you had many encounters with such booze?
I couldn’t possibly comment, though I will (hic!) admit that the old 7-up bottle in my Grandma’s house contained something that packed considerably more punch than your average 7-up…
We’re running a potato growing competition – The Great British Spud Off (Irish entries are welcome!) – what variety of spud would you recommend for a hefty yield?
Obviously I don’t want to ruin my own chances by giving everything away, but choosing something other than an early variety would be a good start.
And do you have any expert potato growing tips you could pass on to our readers?
One word – nitrogen. All potatoes appreciate being planted with some nitrogen-containing manure or compost – though you can have too much of a good thing. If your planting material has a lot of nitrogen to begin with, you may end up with a lot of growth in the stalks at the expense of growth in the tubers (which would be a bit of a disaster in Spud Off terms). I speak from bitter, stalky experience (which you can read about here)
West Kerry in Ireland has its own Spud Off competition (An Spud-Off Mór) which recently featured in an excellent documentary. You were one of the judges – what qualities do you look for in the perfect potato?
The judging for the Spud Off Mór (which translates as The Big Spud Off) rated potatoes on taste, texture, aroma, appearance and overall satisfaction – though, for me, it’s really all about taste and texture (and if you think all potatoes taste the same, I can guarantee that eating your way through a potato judging session would make you think again). So I look for a potato that has good flavour – they can be earthy or nutty or what you might simply describe as, well, potatoey. Texture-wise, I personally favour a dry, floury potato – all the better to have with butter – though I do appreciate the charms of a good waxy potato too (and different kinds of potatoes are good for different uses, so there really is no one perfect one, just ones that may be perfect in different situations).
And, finally, what’s the best way to serve a spud?
There are many fine ways to serve a spud, but sometimes simple is best – it’s hard to beat a plate of freshly dug new potatoes, steamed and served with butter and salt. I’d have that any day of the week.
Check out Aoife’s excellent website at www.thedailyspud.com