John Clarke dedicated his life to providing us with potato varieties
It declares that potato breeder John Clarke lived here from 1889-1980.
His title doesn’t do him justice at all. Local historian, Maurice McHenry wrote a book about Clarke entitled “the Potato Wizard”, a much more apt title.
Clarke farmed on the land surrounding the iconic stones at his homeplace called “Innisfree”. Despite having had no formal education beyond the age of 14, he was recognised as an expert on the science of potato breeding due to ongoing research and experimentation throughout his life. His first variety, Ulster Monarch was certified in 1936. He went on to have 33 varieties certified of which 30 had the prefix Ulster. He was respected by academics at Cambridge and Queen’s universities who visited him often to seek advice.
There’s nothing like a home grown potato, caked in mud to gladden the heart. Galbraith’s Farm Shop in Coleraine, has a great selection of locally grown potato varieties. Arran Victories are their latest addition. It originates from the Isle of Arran where it was developed to mark the end of the First World War in 1918. It has a lilac blue coloured skin that belies icy white flesh. A potato like this needs nothing more than to be simply baked or steamed and anointed with a good dollop of butter. They also sell Sharpe’s Express potatoes, Queens and Kerr’s Pinks. These are older varieties of potatoes that are worth seeking out for their beautiful, natural flavour.
If you want to do something a bit different though, I’ve included a recipe for a pea and ham soup with potatoes. The peas are dried marrowfat and the soup is finished at the end with lots of fresh parsley. The potatoes are cubed and added to the soup or you could replace them with a nice floury spud in the middle of the whole thing.
For something a bit more fancy there’s a recipe for pepped up potatoes – fried and topped with crispy bacon, chilli mayonnaise, scallions, pickled onion and cheese. Perfect for any teenagers in your life.
Sales of this magnificent tuber are down in recent times, with consumers favouring rice and pasta, with the perception 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 covered potato, straight from the ground might be a little bit more high maintenance in the preparation department but each one tells a story of the local terroir and essence of the land it came from. And they taste infinitely better than the uniformly sized, pristinely clean, insipid ones you’ll buy in the supermarket.
John Clarke dedicated his life to providing us with potato varieties.
The least we can do is honour his memory by eating decent spuds.