My family are Tasmanian. As a child I remember being disappointed coming back to the mainland after visiting them, to see potatoes sold with no further definition. Granted it wasn’t an affliction unique to the potato industry, but honey also. I have always adored Leatherwood honey you see, but the homogenised honey one buys in the supermarket is so underwhelming compared to the nuanced delights of varietal honey. The same is true for potatoes. You see, in Tasmania there is a popular variety called Pink Eye. Heavens they are so good simply boiled up and cut with a little butter. One of the true simple pleasures of my childhood. Kosta was talking about them on Gardening Australia a few weeks ago, that was a little exciting. On my last trip to Tasmania I picked some up while I was in the Huon Valley, and made up a delicious ‘Taste of Tasmania’ dinner for friends on my return. I made a salad of green beans, Bruny Island Smokehouse (BISH) smoked ocean trout, pink eye potatoes, and Bruny Island Cheese Company’s o.d.o (one day old, a simple, fresh cheese marinated in fresh garlic, roasted red capsicum and herbs). I flavoured the salad with some finely chopped, freeze dried pepperberries. Pepperberries are great. They are a native food that taste a bit like a cross between a peppercorn and a juniper berry. They normally come dried, but the freeze dried variety I picked up were great because they maintained a lighter texture and kept their fabulous purple colour. It looked great on the plate.
Imagine my delight then, when I arrived at the Capital Region Farmers Market a few weeks ago to discover that Kilyarni Natural Farm had not been growing them, but was now selling Pink Eye potatoes! Pink Eye potatoes have a creamy yellow flesh and blotched pink/purple skin. I should imagine they would grow well around Canberra, in conditions quite similar to many parts of Tasmania. After sharing in the adventures of the purple Jesus potato, Kilyarni saved me a particularly fabulous looking Pink Eye that had a great resemblance to Mick Jagger, with big plump lips. I think I’ll cook him up when I make a crispy skin salmon nicoise salad later in the week.
Over the years, I have seen a gradual increase in the varietal description of potatoes sold on the mainland. I first discovered the fabulous Congo purple potato when I lived in Melbourne and did much of my shopping at the Queen Victoria Markets. There is a great potato seller in the row farthest from the meat building who used to stock them. I was kind of sad to not come across them while I was in the Congo actually, despite the Congolese penchant for Brochette and chips (a Belgian legacy I’m sure). I thought the purple potatoes would make the most delightfully coloured chips, but I’m not sure if they have the right starch content and I’m not one to really make chips to test them out.
I love to buy my potatoes from the steadfast storeholders, Ingelara at the Capital Region Farmers Market. I bought some beautiful Bison potatoes from them a month or two ago. They were a lovely round potato with great red skin. They turned out a beautiful gnocchi. But I love to use pink skinned potatoes in my potato bacon and leek soup because I leave the skin on for added flavour and nutrition, and the pink skin makes it look like there’s more bacon in the soup. A bit tricky, I know. But that makes Bison, and the more common Desiree good. I also love the buttery colour of the rich flavour of Dutch Creams, especially for mash. Nicola are also great. They have a yellow skin and waxy flesh. I love them baked in their skins in a dry oven. This week I picked up some lovely King Edwards from them and would love to fry them up just as they had, with some olive oil, butter and garlic. Heavens they were delicious, and would make great tapas, cooked to crisp golden perfection!
My partner grew up in Ballarat, which is surrounded by good potato country. They put it down to the good Bungaree chocolate soil, you see. Many of the spuds are sourced by the McCains chip factory on the outskirts of town. A friend of ours, a redhead, from Irish stock (more Irish than James Joyce), grew up on one of those farms, and still proudly recounts the time he dug up his first potato. He can tell you the weather, how moist the soil was and what type of spud (I believe it was a Kennebeck). A clever man, he is. Next time you go to buy a spud, think it through. Respect the spud, and pick the one that’s right for you.