Though the Guinness and green hats were less conspicuous on St Patrick’s Day yesterday, it seems fitting to celebrate a stalwart of a starchy carb as well as a symbol of Irish cooking - the potato.
This first item we pack in your bags each week is a reliable constant at Lee Greens, like a friend you sometimes take for granted but who is dependable and invariably a mood-booster. No wonder its scientific name is Solanum tuberosum, with ‘solanum’ believed to derive from the Latin word for ‘soothing’. This soothing tuber is the ultimate comfort food, as many members of our team would agree.
The salt and vinegar-dredged chip is a British icon but the potato has a storied history, first grown some 8,000 years ago in the South American Andes and only brought to Europe during the 1500s. There are more than 180 wild species and the potato is packed with nutrients.
Not just a humble spud?
Potatoes were omnipresent in my early years, owing to my Irish heritage, and also because I was a fussy eater. I socially distanced myself from baked beans and many other foods. But I could always trust the potato.
I remember gorging on my Mum’s roast potatoes on Sundays and my regular birthday request as a young boy was to eat sausage and chips at Happy Eater, a chain of roadside restaurants with brightly-coloured Lego tables and outdoor animal-themed playgrounds. Not the most romantic of Valentine’s days for my parents out by the A1, I can imagine! I’m also reminded here of the classic rhyme “One Potato, Two Potato’ which my Dad used to sing with me and which loved.
Childhood holidays to Ireland and my mum’s hometown of Waterford also provide many food memories, not least my granny’s stew, slow-cooked for hours in her tiny kitchen. It was served with really floury varieties of ‘poppy’ as they were called by my relatives, steaming and crystalline. The drier, fluffier potato lends itself well to the high-quality dairy products which are abundant in Ireland.
A general decline in the nation’s potato-eating habits in recent times has been arrested during lockdown. Since volunteering with Lee Greens I too have rediscovered my affinity for the potato. It’s refreshing to have them in manageable quantities rather the massive bags that tend to be the only option at supermarket. I like their versatility, use them in curries, stews and sometimes, for a little snack, mashed with wilted spinach and loads of butter and sriracha.
To finish, a hot potato. Catch! We waste more potatoes than any other food - 4.4 million potatoes are thrown away by British households each day. And, if not composted, food sent to landfill decomposes slowly, releasing the potent greenhouse gas methane, which ultimately contributes to climate change.
During lockdown we’ve thrown away far less food, due to planning shops better and being more creative with what we’ve got in. But there’s still a way to go. The Guardian’s Felicity Cloake gives some good advice here. Let’s treasure the tuber!
Lee Green team spud selections
Kieran Mullens, Lee Greens Volunteer Packer