I once went to Jersey on a Press trip in the early spring and as I left they gave me a present: a small box of Jersey Royals early potatoes. That’s how much spuds mean to the island, which exports up to 40,000 tonnes a year to the UK.
In this country we have lost the thrill of seasonality. When you can buy asparagus all year round getting the first home-grown from Lincolnshire or Norfolk loses a little of its sparkle. It still tastes far better than the stalks which travel thousands of miles from Peru. And it’s the same with strawberries.
But so far no one has managed to equal the early crop Jersey new potatoes. Majorcan or Cornish run them close but there’s something about a Jersey that sets it apart. So much so that I’m prepared to pay sometimes ridiculous prices for the first of the first. It’s a treat. And then you see the prices tumble in succeeding weeks!
They are special because of the soil, enriched by fertiliser from the seaweed on the island’s beaches. I reckons I can taste the faint briny tang. And because some of the 7,300 acres of potato fields are on steep slopes, many are picked by hand.
They were £2.50 a pound on the only stall selling them in Sheffield’s Moor Market so I bought a pound, and ten minutes later was miffed to find them on sale at Sharp’s around the corner at £1.99. The more expensive spuds were OK, the Sharp’s, which I bought a couple of days later, were better.
Never scrape a Jersey. They just need a wash. And don’t worry about cooking too many, they make excellent potato salad or sauté potatoes.
It’s this same desire for seasonality which sends me out to the woods at this time of year to collect wild garlic. The taste from this year’s pesto (made with cashew nuts not pine nuts) was terrific. And I have also cooked the leaves like spinach with butter and salt but do take the stalks off first.