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Spud King – from humble beginnings

The king of potatoes takes to the balcony once again and waves another season of top spud action in, as kitchens all over the country chop and change their menus to accommodate the Jersey Royal in all its’ regal glory. Jason Daniel takes a look at the history of this majestic spud on what is set to be a vintage year!

The potato season is well underway and the Jersey Royal harvest is set to be a good vintage this year with all that lovely golden flavour, fresh from the exclusive isle.

Over half of Jersey’s total land area is in agricultural or horticultural use and it’s therefore no surprise that agriculture is one of Jersey’s largest industries. Jersey Royal new potatoes account for the vast majority of the Island’s fresh produce exports. Before the season starts, a great deal of preparation goes into making sure the season’s crop is of the best quality.

About 20 farmers across the Island are planting during January and most still use natural, seaweed fertiliser known as Vraic. The main crop is then harvested in March and carries on through the season until June. The potatoes planted on the early slopes are hand lifted, as the slopes are too steep for machinery.

The potatoes are harvested, graded, packed and shipped in refrigerated vehicles, to ensure that they reach consumers when they are at their freshest and finest.

So how did this splendid spud originate? Well it wasn’t until 1878, when a major development in the Jersey potato industry took place – the discovery of a new variety of potato, christened the Jersey Royal Fluke. Until this discovery, the farmers of Jersey had been growing a selection of potatoes on the island. Then one day a Jersey farmer, Hugh de la Haye, spotted two enormous potatoes displayed on the counter in a local store.

The Cotil on Jersey

The slopes of The Cotil on Jersey

So Hugh purchased the pair and took them home. That evening he invited some friends over for dinner, after which he showed them the two huge spuds, one of which had 15 eyes.

They cut this particular potato into 16 pieces which they took and planted on a steep sloping field overlooking the sea above Bellozanne valley, also known as a ‘côtil’ in Jersey.

The following spring, they had produced a large, early crop, but strangely, though the parent potatoes and most of the new crop were round one plant produced nothing but uniquely kidney-shaped potatoes. The Jersey Royal was born!

It was carefully nurtured and developed to produce the later varieties of Jersey Royals which now account for almost half of Jersey’s income from agricultural products.

Hugh de La Haye was later honoured by islanders at a formal gathering with a testimonial and a purse of gold sovereigns for his grande find. Jersey Royal new potatoes enjoy a Protected Designation of Origin, much like Champagne, Camembert, Parma and our very own Yorkshire rhubarb.

Did you know that mainland Britain is the only place outside Jersey where these potatoes are available to buy and are at their most plentiful and flavoursome from April to June.

Health benefits
Jersey Royal potatoes are famous for being our favourite new potato, which are renowned for their unique taste, flavour, and delicate skins. However, not only do Jersey Royals taste fantastic, they are also incredibly nutritious.

Consumers are constantly bombarded with nutritional information concerning what they should and shouldn’t eat, but you only need look at the facts about Jersey Royals and even the healthiest eater couldn’t moan about the figures – or their figure for that matter!

Primarily, Jersey Royals are a fantastic source of complex carbohydrates or starch, which are usually the main source of energy for the body and vital for growth and development.

Nutritionists recommend that this food group makes up the bulk of our diet (between 47 – 50%) to ensure a healthy diet. Unlike other carbohydrates, such as pasta and rice, potatoes, this may come as a surprise but Jersey Royal potatoes are a brilliant source of vitamin C, which is essential in our diets for maintaining healthy skin, hair, bones, teeth and gums – especially the skins, 100g of Jersey Royals provides you with 25% of the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for vitamin C.

Vitamin B is also present in potatoes and fundamental in helping carbohydrates work properly to provide energy for the body, it also helps maintain a healthy skin and nervous system.

So it’s a common myth that potatoes are fattening and they are often the first casualty on the banned list when dieting for people are trying to lose weight. However potatoes are actually very low in fat and combined with exercise, are a fantastic way to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Fibre is abundant in un-refined carbohydrates such as Jersey Royals and essential for the digestion process which makes you feel fuller for longer. Nutritionists recommend that 18g of fibre is consumed daily to ensure a healthy diet.

There is protein in Jersey Royals, but it is relatively small, but significant, as it is of a comparable quality to egg protein.

But whatever people say about potatoes, they are probably the one food that 99% of the population would choose as the most versatile food on the planet and the one they couldn’t do without.

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