Wanted: heirloom potatoes

Saffron Wood (7) with some of the rare varieties of potatoes at the Shetland Street Gardens. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Saffron Wood (7) with some of the rare varieties of potatoes at the Shetland Street Gardens. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Move over the Year of the Rat. It is the turn of the humble spud.

The United Nations has declared 2008 the International Year of the Potato because of its importance as a staple food.

To help mark the occasion, the Dunedin Environment Centre is asking people to come forward with their heirloom varieties.

Centre trustee Joseph Dougherty said heirloom varieties had been recorded, by oral or written methods, by their owners for several hundred years.

The centre wanted to learn more about Otago's heirloom varieties and create a repository.

That would be invaluable for people interested in growing varieties such as Portobello Purple, Old Otago and Moeraki Whaler.

While heritage potatoes were smaller, Mr Dougherty said, they contained less water, and ‘‘were so damn tasty''.

Modern-day potatoes had been modified by cultivation.

Community Gardens gardener Liselle Wood, who grows 43 types of heirloom potatoes on her Broad Bay property, said that once you produced the older varieties you could never go back to those from shops.

The potatoes were easy to grow, using a blend of horse manure and seaweed, Mrs Wood said.

Moeraki Whaler was believed to have originated from one of Captain Cook's voyages and, like other heritage potatoes, had a strong, unique taste.

Bluff Whaler, was left by Spanish whalers in Bluff. It was oblong, blue-purple and white fleshed.

‘‘It's a good masher,'' Mrs Wood said. Included in her collection were Maori potato varieties, such as the Kowiniwini, which had adapted to the South better than kumara.

‘‘If I was ever going to an undiscovered land I would definitely take these potatoes.''

Those wanting to identify their potatoes could take them to the Environment Centre's Community Gardens in Shetland St, Dunedin.

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