Jersey Royals are on the menu for April
In around 1880 a Jersey farmer, Hugh de la Haye, showed friends a large potato that he had bought. It had 15 ‘eyes’ which are points from which new plants sprout. They cut this potato into pieces, which they planted in a côtil (a steeply sloping field) above the Bellozanne valley. One plant produced kidney-shaped potatoes, with a paper-thin skin, which they called the Jersey Royal Fluke. This was later shortened to ‘Jersey Royal’.
Today there are approximately 20 island farmers who grow Jersey Royals, many of whom grow potatoes and no other crops. The potatoes are grown on approximately 16,500 vergees (approximately 7,300 acres).
The Jersey soil is light and well drained and many farmers still use seaweed harvested from Jersey beaches as a natural fertilizer (it is known locally as vraic). Jersey has some of the most formidable tidal flows in the world and the strong movement of the sea deposits large quantities of vraic on the shore. The practice of using vraic on the land dates back to the 12th century.
The Jersey Royal season begins in November with planting under glass. The main outdoor crop is planted from January to April with harvesting from the end of March through to July. The peak of the season is May, when up to 1,500 tonnes of Jersey Royals can be exported daily.
Potatoes planted on the early slopes are hand lifted, with mechanical harvesters used only for the later, flatter fields. The fields on slopes near the coast are so steep that almost all the work is done by hand.
Once harvested, the level of care continues at each stage. Jersey Royals are checked twice by workers and quality controllers before being packed and loaded into refrigerated trailers for export. The potatoes are harvested, graded, packed and shipped daily to ensure that consumers are buying them when they are at their freshest and finest.
Besides being unique to Jersey, the Jersey Royal enjoys EU protection of designation of origin in much the same way that France was granted sole use of the word ‘Champagne’. The Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) is an official recognition granted by the EU to protect the product as it is produced in its country of origin. In other words, if a batch of potatoes doesn’t have the PDO it isn’t the genuine article.
For me the best way to eat these pearls of the land is to simply wash them in cold water, wiping over with a soft cloth to remove any flaky skin, before placing them into salted cold water with a little mint. Boil until cooked, then drain and add butter and re-season with flaked sea salt and freshly milled black pepper: they are perfect with any simple grilled or seared meat or fish,
Warm salad of Jersey Royals
300g washed Jersey Royals
½ cucumber, peeled and cut into quarters with seeds removed
200g cherry vine tomatoes, cut in half
1 bunch of red garden radishes, trimmed and cut into quarters
1 bunch of spring onions
20g chopped chives
25ml Greek yoghurt
25g grain mustard
15ml sherry vinegar
Whisk all these ingredients together.
1. Season the cucumber and leave in a bowl to bleed.
2. Cook the potatoes with a little mint. Once cooked, cut in half if needed and place into a colander and keep them warm,
3. Drain the cucumber and place back into the bowl then add the tomatoes, radishes and the potatoes before seasoning with a few turns of a pepper mill and then pour over the dressing, Place some cling film over the bowl to allow the flavours to infuse.
4. Remove the cling film and serve either as part of a dish such as seared loch salmon or simply eat as a refreshing salad.