Saturday, 25 August 2012
Potatoes are a serious matter in rural Ireland. Dinner's hardly dinner without them. Connoisseurs will tell you that Queens are better than Home Guard and that Champions are subject to blight. Pub bores make annual announcements that the floury spud, now, would be the Irish choice while the English want them waxy, which the world and his wife know well is just perverse.
And each year during the growing season when the radio, television and Met Office issue warnings about threatening weather conditions, everyone eyes the stalks on their ridges warily. Potato blight can strike after a single night of heat and humidity, and unsprayed crops can 'melt' and turn black, the stalks wilting and the tubers beneath them rotting into the earth.
Every year we debate the question of spraying. If you're like us you don't like the idea of covering your food with chemicals. If you're a farmer with a lifetime's experience of saving and setting seed, tending your crop for months and watching the sudden devastation blight can bring, you can see it differently. And so the debate goes on.
This year, though, it was different. Here in Corca Dhuibhne we're celebrating National Potato Day with three cheers for Tibet.
Last autumn, Wilf was working in the garden when a man we didn't know passed by on the road. He stopped at the gate and looked in. Wilf saw him and nodded. The man leaned on the gate. Then he wandered in to admire our crop of late spuds. Some time later, having checked out the parsnips and turnips, refused a cup of tea because he was in a hurry, and sat on the bench discussing the merits of chard, he stopped at the gate and turned back. 'Did you ever try the Tibets?' he said. 'No', said Wilf. 'Right so', said the man 'I'll be passing tomorrow in the car,' he said, 'and I'll throw in a few for you there in the boot.'
And he did. Somewhere round lunchtime the following day, he drew up at the gate with a bag of potatoes for eating, another for seed, and an armful of leeks 'in case she might want to make soup.' Then he drove off and we haven't seen him since.
Checked out on the internet, the Tibets turned out to be an old 'blight-free' strain. This year Wilf set them alongside our Champions and we all sat back and waited to see what would happen. It's been a bad year for harvests of every kind. The wet, muggy weather blighted the Champions and sent slugs chomping happily through our greens. But the Tibets have been triumphant. The sun's come out as I've been typing this, and outside my window their purple flowers and green-leaved stalks are rippling gently in the wind.
Yesterday Wilf and Jack lifted the first potato. It was a fine size, sound and smooth-skinned, with a reddish tinge and a sweet, delicious taste. We ate it with salt and butter, savouring every bite. Today we'll be digging a proper meal's-worth.
And we'll be celebrating the generosity of a passing stranger for many meals to come.