I went to the London Potato Fair the other day to get our seed potatoes for this year: meanwhile, here are some I prepared earlier. These are the Pink Fir Apples we grew last year, which we are still eating at the beginning of February. OK, I must admit that we forgot about them for a bit, but when I finally got them out of the garden shed they were still in pretty good nick. Perhaps not quite as firm as when they were first harvested, but still eating well, and the flavour was as good as ever. It was an excellent crop of PFAs in 2007, which I put down to all that rain. As they say, there's no such thing as bad weather. (On the other hand, don't talk to me about the tomatoes. They did not have a good time of it last year. Still, you can't have everything).
The Potato Fair is one of the highlights of my year: I look forward to it the way my kids look forward to Christmas ("Dear Santa, This year I would like some Charlottes, some Red Duke of York and some Pink Fir Apples. I promise I have been a very good boy.") There are more than 100 varieties of seed potato, and although 15p a tuber is more expensive than if you buy in bulk, the fact that you can buy individual tubers is brilliant for people like me who like to grow several different types of spud. I would like to say that you can get just about every variety one has ever heard of, but some of the popular-but-rare varieties sell out incredibly quickly. We got there about three quarters of an hour after it started, with our hearts set on buying some Roseval, only to find out that they had all been snapped up already. I think that next year I am going to have to camp out the night before, just to make sure I get the spuds I want. Not that I'm eccentric or anything.
To be honest, I wouldn't be the only eccentric person there. There are all sorts of wonderfully odd people at the fair, including one middle-aged lady who was scouring the fair for her favourite potato (Marfona, as it happens) with an air of absolute determination.
The other highlight (apart from the seed swap, which might have to be the subject of another blog) was meeting the wonderful Liane, who has done the illustrations for my book: they are, in my unbiased opinion, absolutely gorgeous. She has a plot in north London, but made the journey down to Peckham to check out the potato fair, which she had not been to before. I am glad to say that she was so enthralled by the occasion that she bought some potatoes which she simply did not need, but will somehow manage to find space for.
Choosing potatoes is always a skilful operation; getting the right balance of cooking style/flavour/harvesting time is an intellectual exercise of the utmost subtlety. I cannot say we necessarily got it right, but this is what we came away with: Anya (we are trying to kick our Charlotte habit, although they are so reliable and delicious I could quite easily grow them every year without ever getting bored), Kestrel, Red Duke of York, King Edward and Belle de Fontenay (which sounds like the beautiful heroine from some 19th century French novel, or possibly the title of a romantic opera). There was also one more, which my eight-year-old son Orlando chose: the Salad Blue. When I got home I looked it up, and discovered it's not actually a salad potato at all. If you try boiling it, it will disintegrate without so much as a by-your-leave. But it is blue. Apparently it makes an amusing mash.