One potato, two potato…

Gardening editor Alice Whitehead digs deep for Britain's tastiest tatties and shows you how you can harvest perfect potatoes from the patio.

One potato, two potato…

Abundant by the bag load and as cheap as chips, it might be hard to understand why you would want to grow your own potatoes at home. But having spuds on tap means you can try new and interesting varieties and know they've been grown without chemicals. Plus, there's simply nothing better than a freshly buttered potato just out of the soil!
Whether in the greenhouse, garden or in patio pots, growing at home also allows you to save some of our most precious heirloom varieties: think pearly white boiler British Queen, lumpy-bumpy Pink Fir Apple for natural crinkle-cut chips, or inky Salad Blues. These are varieties you simply can't buy in the shops. Their low yields means they are commercially redundant, but grown at home in small parcels they offer unrivalled texture and taste.

All about heritage

A decade ago, Northumberland potato farmers Anthony and Lucy Carroll had the same light-bulb moment when they decided to stop growing uniform potatoes for supermarkets in favour of heritage varieties. 'I remember the day I went to a potato conference and tucked away in the corner was this table of knobby, oddly shaped potatoes with deep-set eyes and colourful flesh, which tasted fantastic,' says Anthony. 'I simply couldn't get them out of my head.'
Later, when he was asked to grow yet another standard variety for a supermarket, he asked them why they had chosen that particular variety. The reply was to change the course of his career. 'They're high-yield, easy to harvest, disease-resistant and look great in a plastic bag,' they told me. 
'But they taste filthy! It was at this point I realised I wasn't getting any pleasure out of these varieties, and decided to grow the knobbly ones!'
Dunbar Rover, a creamy-floury potato bred in the 1930s, was the first for the trial plot on the Carroll's farm on the Scottish borders, and for Anthony it still sums up what they're all about. 'It may not look pretty and the yields are terrible – but it tastes divine!' he says.
Flushed with success, other varieties followed, including Arran Victory, dating from 1916, and 1940s Duke of York. When they took them to their local farmers' markets, the positive response was overwhelming. Not long afterwards they got their first contract with Booths and Fortnum & Mason.
'Potatoes have been grown commercially for high yield since the war years,' says Anthony. 'They weren't selected on shape, colour, texture or taste because they needed to feed the nation. While this was perfectly acceptable back then, by the 1980s we'd all become used to the standard supermarket red and white potatoes – and many people still don't realise there's a whole world of delicious organic and heritage varieties out there.'

Tatties with taste

Indeed, of the 450 varieties in Britain only 80 are grown commercially and with supermarket buyers comfortable with the long-established, picture-perfect varieties (that are cheaper and easier to grow), there's no room for ugly spuds. Ask the average householder what potato variety they use and they might say 'baking', or 'new' – perhaps even 'British white' – but it's rare they'll know the variety, let alone whether they are floury, waxy or early or late.
But a One Poll study, commissioned by The Edible Garden Show – which suggests almost half of us are planning to grow our own potatoes next year – could change all this.
'Potatoes are so easy to grow at home,' affirms Lucy. 'You don't need an allotment plot, just a pot will do, and they pretty much take care of themselves. And if the skin finish is not perfect or they're curiously shaped, who cares? They still taste good, and for small-crop growing you can't beat them.'
Celebrating their 10th birthday this year, Carroll's Heritage Potatoes continues to nurture its 70 acres of special tubers, with boxes winging their way to the Roux and Hix restaurant chains, and Jamie Oliver's Fifteen.
'We're not trying to compete with modern varieties – we're growing the Rolls-Royces of the potato world,' says Anthony. 'Just like the car, a huge amount of attention to detail has gone into each crop, and you simply cannot mass-produce them.'

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