After shaking off the effects of a certain American fad diet, Imen McDonnell rediscovered the glory of the humble spud.
It is entirely possible that I hadn't eaten a potato for six months before moving to Ireland. It's not that I didn't like potatoes, it's just that a certain American fad diet ushered in a sense that all carbs and starches were to be your arch-enemy.
A diet named after a Florida beach, which also consequently never let you forget that itsy-bitsy bikini collecting dust in your top drawer for far longer than you cared to admit. A diet that seemed to be wholly integrated into the lives of everyone around me, not just women, but all the metrosexual males in my office as well. Sure, mash was acceptable on Thanksgiving, but those baby reds needed to be nudged to the edge of your plate of salad Niçoise at lunch the next day.
Ironically, since moving to Ireland, I've now come full circle, and have become a bit obsessed with potatoes. It all began in my first few months of Irish living, when I would indulge in my mother-in-law's perfectly floury boiled or steamed potatoes or potato stuffing with a lovely dinner at the farm.
I instantly became reacquainted with the goodness of spuds. So much so, that I nearly cried when I used the last of Richard's potato harvest in February; bags of Golden Wonders harvested in late autumn that had exceptional flavour and texture.
Over the weekend, I had the great pleasure of meeting Dermot Carey, former head gardener at Lissadell House where he looked after David Langford's magnificent collection of 180 potato varieties. I'd seen these potato varieties before as they were on display at the GIY Gathering last September, but missed Dermot's presentation on the day.
We caught up in the extraordinary walled kitchen garden that supplies Harry's Bar and Restaurant in Inishowen, Co Donegal, where he now presides. Dermot is a charming and passionate grower, who very generously imparted a portion of his enormous depth of gardening knowledge for my Food Island film, and also very kindly shared several heritage potato varieties with me. Potatoes from Ireland, the UK, and America with names like Mr Little's Yethem Gypsy, Yukon Gold, and Lady Rosetta. I am still squealing with delight, and cannot wait to plant and cook them.
This Sunday, 27 May, I am thrilled and honoured to be doing a special cookery demonstration with a focus on potatoes at Sheridan's Irish Food Festival at Sheridan's Cheesemongers in Carnaross, Co Meath.
There will also be workshops by Janet Drew of Janet's Country Fayre chutneys and preserves, Enda McEvoy of Aniar restaurant in Galway, Sally Barnes of Woodcock Smokery, and Kevin Sheridan of Sheridan's Cheesemongers, while Darina Allen will sign copies of her wonderful Forgotten Skills of Cooking book in the Slow Food Youth Tent. Should be a fantastic day; hope to see you there!