Potatoes are a space-greedy crop so growing the right variety is important. No one wants to tie up large areas of their garden or allotment for many weeks only to find they don’t like the taste or cooking quality of their chosen spud.
But making that choice isn’t easy. There are hundreds of varieties and all sound tempting.
I’ve been taking some advice from James Mclean, shop manager at Dundry Nurseries, a Cotswold firm that has been staging a January potato weekend for 20 years, attracting growers from across the country.
What makes their event my favourite is the chance to experiment, as tubers are sold from a single one at 20p right up to a sack-load.
This season, they will have a staggering 18 tonnes of 130 different varieties for sale covering every potato group: early, first early, second early and maincrop.
While many are old favourites, there are several new varieties available this year.
‘Double Fun’ is a purple skinned second early with yellow, waxy flesh. ‘Elfe’, another second early, has a creamy, buttery taste.
Among the maincrop potatoes, there’s ‘Alverstone Russet’. It replaces ‘Russet Burbank’, which Dundry can no longer source, and has white flesh, high yields and stores well. ‘Pippa’, also maincrop, is a salad variety that has been bred from the popular ‘Pink Fir Apple’. It has the same great flavour but is easy to prepare as the shape is more regular.
“The most exciting is ‘Sarpo Kifli’,” says James. “It’s a salad variety but it stores well, which is unheard of, and it has a fantastic taste.”
Add the high blight resistance common to Sarpo potatoes and the fact that it’s suitable for growing in containers, and this variety seems to be one to watch.
Growers’ favourite potatoes
But if those are the newcomers, what about the tried and tested potatoes? James says there are some that always top the poll with Dundry’s growers.
When it comes to early potatoes, ‘Charlotte’ is definitely the queen. Reliable, high yields of fabulous tasting tubers make this the number one choice for a salad spud.
Honours are shared in the first early category. As the name suggests, ‘Swift’ is favoured for its speed of growth – it’s ready in 12 to 14 weeks – and the tubers are well flavoured and firm. It’s also a variety suitable for growing in a container.
Also popular in the first earlies is ‘Rocket’. Again, it matures quickly, can be container grown and produces a lot of mild tubers.
Among the second earlies, ‘Kestrel’ is the top choice at Dundry. It is a good all-rounder in the kitchen and has possibly the best resistance to slugs.
Finally, the maincrop potatoes are led by the well-known ‘Desiree’. Its red-skinned, waxy tubers have an excellent flavour and a high drought tolerance.
But already snapping at their heels are recently introduced potatoes that are gaining a following. Possibly the best known is ‘Jazzy’, a second early that can be boiled, steamed or roasted. It’s been on the market for just two years but is already popular at the Dundry potato weekend.
“We’ve tripled our order from last year,” says James.
And if you want something that looks different on your plate, what about ‘Apache’?. A second early, it has distinctive red and yellow skin and you can keep its colourful looks by blanching it before roasting.
While most of the potatoes are sold over the weekend – this year on January 21 and 22 – the stock is arriving daily and regulars are already in picking up their favourites. The family-run nursery, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, doesn’t do online ordering but will post out orders placed by phone. The website has a list of varieties and whether they are still in stock.
Choosing is going to be a tough decision.
• Dundry Nurseries, Bamfurlong Lane, Cheltenham, holds its potato weekend on January 21 and 22 from 9-4.30pm. Details of potato varieties are available on the website: Dundry Nurseries
• Do you grow potatoes? What’s your favourite variety?