Potatoes are a cheap and energy rich food which helps feed nations

A Generic Photo of potatoes. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.
A Generic Photo of potatoes. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

Potatoes were first cultivated by the Incas in Peru over 6,000 years ago.

They are recorded as being grown in London from 1597 and their popularity spread during the industrial revolution to fuel workers with this cheap and energy rich food.

There are roughly 80 varieties grown in the UK today and they can be divided into two categories – “earlies” with a soft skin that are harvested from May and more robust “maincrop” which are being harvested now.

The most well known crop of “earlies” are Home Guard, British Queen and Maris Peer.

The Queens and Home Guard both gained momentum during the two world wars, hence the names, and were part of the staple diet during these trying times.

In her book “How to Eat a Wolf” American food writer MFK Fisher says: “Potatoes are one of the last things to disappear in times of war, which is probably why they should not be forgotten in times of peace.”

“Maincrop” potatoes are the most common in this country and the best known are Maris Piper, King Edward, Desiree and Golden Wonder.

To celebrate our national treasure, the third annual Causeway Potato Festival takes place this weekend.

The festival site is in front of the Causeway Hotel and you’ll be able to meet potato breeders, growers and producers.

There’ll be chef demonstrations and plenty of activities for children.

It starts at 10 this morning and you can find details on www.potatoni.com.

Sales of the magnificent tuber are down in recent times, with consumers favouring rice and pasta, with the perception that they are quicker to prepare and more nutritious.

In reality a potato is naturally fat free, rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and fibre.

A muck caked potato, straight from the ground gladdens the heart.

It might be a bit more high maintenance in the preparation department but each one tells a story about the local land it came from. Something that would be much harder to say about spaghetti....!

One of the most versatile of ingredients, potato dishes can be anything from a simple baked King Edward with butter to an elaborate pressed Desiree terrine studded with winter truffles.

They run the gamut of seasons too, from refreshing summer potato salads, deep rich comforting gnocchi with cheese and pancetta, spicy, warming Middle Eastern spiced dishes to the ultimate heart warming champ.

My recipes this week are the ones I’ll be cooking at the festival later today. The first one is a Catalan dish that I discovered through a Glaswegian food writer friend.

Trinxat is potatoes and cabbage, cooked in stock and then fried in bacon fat with garlic and onions.

It might be Spanish by name but it’s definitely Ulster at heart and tastes right at home here.

Potato in a sponge cake might seem a bit off the radar but soft mashed potatoes add a lovely texture to the finish.

When the cake is hot from the oven, I douse it with a syrup made with Ruby Blue’s new potato vodka ( distilled in Lisburn) and elderflowers.

A compote of local seasonal damsons and blackberries adds a fruity kick.