Wednesday 13 February 2008

The Year of The Potato....

Believe it: 2008 is officially The International Year of The Potato, as I discovered earlier this week. Doubtless, great excitement has been engendered in Potato World by this development - King Edwards throwing their hats in the air as far as the eye can see - but, frankly, I can't myself get too worked up about the subject

Potatoes - let's face it - just do not deserve the attention.

In many ways, I've always rather liked them: Gratin Daupinoise, with cream and cheese; Bacon & Potato Hotpot; Potatoes roast in Duck Fat, or sliced very thinly and fried to a crisp in Butter. All. Deeply. Delicious! But, then, why wouldn't they be? Cream and Cheese and Butter and Bacon and Duck Fat are all full of glorious flavours. Take them away, however, and what are you left with, apart from a texture and a shape? Not much, is the answer.

And it seems that when it comes down to it, the Potato People (the growers, I mean, not the King Edwards with their hats) don't seem to disagree. On the website for the International Year of the Potato there is no appearance anywhere of the words 'flavour' or 'taste'. Nowhere.
And, looking further afield, the website for 'America's Favorite Vegetable' falsely suggested they had something called a flavor profile for potatoes secreted within the inner recesses of the website - except that clicking on the relevant link instead brought up something called 'Potato Power...Kid-tested healthful recipes'....with no mention of 'flavor' anywhere to be seen. I was encouraged by the Kid-tested bit, though - at least it gives those poor puppies a bit of a rest!

The French. As the inventors of Pommes Anna, and Pommes Maximes, and Pommes Duchesse, not to mention the glorious Gratin Dauphinoise......and,of course, given their position as Defenders of the Faith of all things culinary.....for sure they would have chapter and verse on Potatoes and flavour. Um.....nope. The french nonpareil online potato resource,, listed in agonising detail 22 different characteristics of every potato in their list, all the way from 'précocité de maturation' through to 'résisitance de nématodes' - but without a single reference anywhere to either 'gôut' or 'saveur'.

The British Potato Council took a depressingly similar approach, and on their website it's possible to search on no less than 42 characteristics of every potato under the sun - however, neither 'flavour' nor 'taste' featured anywhere in the options. Somehow not relevant, it seems.

My final resource, to check in desperation, was the Dutch Potato growers. The Dutch are fond of potatoes. They keep out the cold as it sweeps in from the North Sea in midwinter. Surely, surely the Dutch will understand potatoes from a flavour-related standpoint?

It seems not. Their website also was conspicuously unencumbered with any references to 'taste' or 'flavour'. But they did at least invite questions; so, I asked. "What about flavour?"

"Oh", they said. "Taste is a subjective thing, so it would be incorrect to refer to it in rating the quality of different potatoes."

Ah. So, as long as we know how large and nematode-resistant these arguably tasteless tubers are likely to be, then that's all we need to know, eh? Forget the flavour thing entirely.

Lumme! It's one way of looking at comestibles, I suppose - but for heavens sake, don't tell Jancis Robinson or Robert Parker!

Tonight's Dinner:

Salmon Parfait.

Lamb Shanks, roast with Garlic & Rosemary; Lentils and Leeks, infused with Thyme

Tartes aux Citron.


froginbritain said...

Totally in agreement with your article. The lack of emphasis on flavour seems to extend to most other vegetables as well.
I have my own 'potager' and for most products I grow I have to rely on trial and error. Very often, the varieties that are promoted in seeds catalogues are those that commercial growers like because of marketability of the end product; for them the important facts are appearance, regularity, predictability rather than flavour. These are the products we find on the markets and in the shops.
Agreed, flavour is a difficult one to measure! If you like a vegetable, try growing it yourself and pick it at the last minute: that is my advice.
PS to Pomiane: I was envious to see lamb shanks on tonight's dinner menu - how about giving us a great recipe for that...SVP.

Pomiane said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you about the flavour-free status of most vegetables available in retail outlets in the UK (in comparison with those I can buy in Italy......I have a theory about this, which I'll get round to expounding online sometime soon). I envy you your potager; I don't think the authorities would view it kindly, though, if I tried to do the same thing in a corner of Kensington Gardens!) Lamb Shanks recipe to follow, shortly...