A few years ago I got the opportunity to visit Jersey at potato harvesting time. I spent a couple of days scrambling up hillsides by the sea, too steep for tractors and so worked by hand, with tools on pulleys. You felt that if you lost your footing you would tumble into the sea, desperately grasping handfuls of potato plants as you fell. The farmers would probably be more concerned for the ruined potatoes: in the time I was there – and despite being wined and dined by potato farmers – I didn’t get to taste a single Jersey Royal. They don’t eat them, it seems, too precious. Out of the ground and onto the boats.
The island is on a tilt from high cliffs in the north down to beaches in the south. It’s the ultimate south-facing slope. The ground is warm and well-drained and fertile from seaweed thrown over the soil. The most treasured fields are those steep seaside ones, where there is little chance of frost and the soil warms quickest. They produce the very earliest potatoes.
The trick to the Jersey Royal’s delicate, sweet taste is that it grows quick, with no chance to form a skin. I have always fancied having a go at reproducing these conditions, perhaps making a south-sloping raised bed. But it recently occurred to me that the greenhouse would do the trick much better. What I meant to do was to buy some ‘International Kidney’ seed potatoes (the variety name of Jersey Royals) and start them off really early, mimicking the Jersey farmers. By the time I got round to it all ‘International Kidney’s were long gone, but I’m trying it now with ‘Anya’ and ‘Ratte’, three to a huge pot, in the warmest, sunniest spot in the greenhouse, and hoping that they grow extra fast and sweet and tender. I’ll maybe try seaweed fertiliser too, and hope for the occasional waft that takes me back to that potato field with a view.