Tam's Tall Tales

- No Spud like an Ayrshire Early

Maris Peer Potato via Cookipedia

Ayrshire Earlies

If you are wondering about the UK slang word "spud" in the title above, this name for a small potato comes from the digging of soil (or a hole) prior to the planting of potatoes. The word was originally (c. 1440) used as a term for a short knife or dagger, probably related to the Latin root "spad-" meaning "sword" - from which the English "spade" is derived. The word subsequently transferred over to a variety of digging tools. Around 1845, the name was applied to the tuber itself.

The graphic on the right is the flower of a potato plant.

Producers of high-quality products jealously protect there names and woe betide any Japanese distiller who passes his stuff off as Scotch Whisky or any upstarts from the Napa Valley who describes their fizz as Champagne.

Ayrshire provides some of the first new potatoes grown in Scotland and they can be in supermarkets 2 days after lifting. Ayrshire is an ideal location to grow early potatoes because it is on the south west coast of Scotland, which benefits from the warming waters of the Gulf Stream.

In the late 19th and early 20th century potatoes were primarily harvested by migrant Irish workers, or “Tattie Howkers”. Special trains were laid on to transport the crop around the UK from Ayrshire.

Ayrshire produces many types of potato including Maris Peer, Rockets and Premiers and Epicure. The salty air and sandy soil due to Ayrshire’s coastal position is said to produce a unique flavour - helped in the past by farmers tradditionally using a seaweed-based fertiliser.

The graphic on the left (by William Craig via Wikimedia) shows a field of potoatoes growing at Portencross in Ayrshire

Now the growers of Ayrshire potatoes are looking for legal protection to ensure that the name "Ayrshire Earlies" is not used by growers in other areas and are seeking European Union Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status.

If the bid is successful, only selected potatoes grown in the region and harvested between May to July could be branded as "Ayrshire Earlies".

The application has been backed by both the UK and Scottish governments.

Three other types of potato in the UK, including the Jersey Royal, already have the status.

Paddy Graham-Jones, technical and procurement director of major Scottish-based potato merchant Albert Bartlett & Sons Ltd who operate across Scotland, England, Ireland, Scotland and Jersey and now in France and the USA commented: "Ayrshire earlies are unique to Scotland and to Ayrshire. They have always heralded the arrival of summer. The smooth creamy texture and fresh flavour stem from the Ayrshire soil and climate and the skill and experience of the growers."

Please give me whatever feedback comes to mind via tamfromrampant@gmail.com.

Tam O'Ranter
June 2014

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