New potato a chip off the old block
A potato not seen since the Irish famine is set to make a comeback.
The Irish Lumper, a distinctive knobbly spud, has been specially nurtured from a handful of rare seedlings and is expected to hit the supermarket shelves next week - 170 years after it was last harvested commercially.
Farmer Michael McKillop, who runs Glens of Antrim Potatoes, said: "Provenance is at the core of our business and five years ago we launched a variety development programme to bring back improved versions of local favourites which had been long forgotten. Following a period of heavy investment, and working closely with a specialist grower, we are now able to reintroduce a famous potato which has not been seen for over 170 years."
The Lumper was introduced in around 1810 and, before the blight, was particularly popular around the Munster and Connaught areas. It was the only choice for thousands of poverty-stricken families because it could be grown easily in poor soils and required little manure.
This time round, however, the crop is being cultivated in the fertile fields close to Cushendall on the north Antrim coast.
Mr McKillop said its re-emergence on to the 21st-century food market had been a lengthy process. He first found the Lumper at a potato fair in Co Down and planted the seedlings in his garden at home. That autumn he was able to harvest 28 small potatoes.
He said: "I tasted them and thought they were quite good. So, I planted them for another year and got another good yield. I thought about the heritage of the potato and then contacted SASA (Scottish Seed Potato Register) which holds the gene pool for all types of potatoes and asked if they could re-pollinate the Lumper."
It tastes mid-way between the waxy varieties such as Jersey Royals and the more floury potatoes like the King Edward. He recommends it be steamed with the skin on or roasted.
It has taken five years to generate a commercial crop - believed to be the first in the UK or Ireland. Mr McKillop said: "It is good to be able to give consumers the chance to taste something with a bit of heritage. That's what I am about - I like unusual varieties and something different. It's always good to have new varieties but we should never forget those from the past."
The Lumper potato is being produced by Glens Of Antrim Potatoes and will be sold in Marks & Spencer stores from next week. It will be available UK-wide by the end of the month.