What I don’t know about potatoes…

I throw around a lot of flippant comments about potatoes, because they’re so, you know, humble, starchy, peasant-foody, ground-dwelling, whatever, but truth be told, I love them, and would be happy to eat them every day, especially… fried. Yes, I’ve said it. Chips, crisps, homefries, hashbrowns, roasties (which, let’s be honest, are basically fried) put a potato together with hot oil, salt, maybe some onions, and you can stop right there. I think it’s my Russian and British Isles ancestry, but seriously, forget about tomatoes, what did Europeans eat before potatoes?

Anyway, here I am in a country that loves potatoes as much as I do, and I go to the produce aisles at Tesco and feel a little lost; here’s what you get when you search for “potatoes” on their home-shopping website. All the potatoes are generally about the same color – white and thin-skinned – but different sizes – some enormous – and shapes. They have a number of different names on them: Charlotte, Maris Piper, King This or That. Some of the bags tell you that such-and-such type is better for mashing, or for baking (“jacket potatoes” – baked potatoes with different fillingsĀ  – were a phenomenon in recent decades, and I think there was a chain of shops dedicated to them). Honestly, none of these potatoes look like baking potatoes to me, though I haven’t tried it yet. Shouldn’t “jacket” potatoes actually have a jacket?

Like, say, a russet potato with its rough, brown skin?

And if they don’t have a jacket, if I’m making them another way – e.g., mashed, roasted – do I really need to peel them at all? Even the biggest potatoes I’ve seen here, which weigh over a pound, have skins like new potatoes.

Here’s a page on uses for different varieties of potatoes from the UK Potato Council website; around 80 varieties are grown commercially here! (I can name maybe four grown in the US; two of them are from the last decade or so, and probably come from elsewhere anyway, but you can find a little more variety if you go to a farmer’s market.) I can’t tell yet whether all these UK varieties have been around for generations, or are a product of the British-pride/locally grown food movement.

As I write this it occurs to me that I’ve had a local expert available to me, whom I must consult: I will ask Angela, Andrew’s mum, who grew up in Ireland, if she’ll come with me to the supermarket one day and help me sort through all the potato varieties. So much to learn!


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