Ayrshire early new potatoes thriving
Ayrshire’s milder climate helps grow some of the UK’s finest new potatoes. So much so, the ‘Ayrshire early’ may even qualify for protected status
Few things say spring quite like new potatoes, and Ayrshire ‘earlies’ – the first tatties to come in to season in Scotland every year – are widely considered to be among the finest in the UK, possessing a smooth, sweet, creamy taste and texture unlike any other. So much so that a co-op called Girvan Early Growers have made a bid for PGI status (protected geographical indication) for the Ayrshire early, with the hope of putting them in the company of Stornoway black pudding and Arbroath Smokies, not to mention the likes of Champagne and Parmesan cheese, as a product protected from imitation by EU regulation.
Potatoes have been grown in Ayrshire since around the 1850s, and the early harvest was once a massive enterprise employing thousands of men and women from the south-west of Scotland and beyond.
‘Towards the end of the 19th century there would be huge amounts of migrant workers every year who went there – the tattie howkers as they were known,’ explains Michael Jarvis from Albert Bartlett and Scotty Brand, part of the Girvan Early Growers co-op. ‘In 1910 there were a thousand tattie howkers just in the Girvan area alone. They would put on special trains from Ayrshire that transported the potatoes all around the UK.’
Potatoes grow better and faster in Ayrshire because the sea is warmed by the Gulf Stream, meaning a milder climate and less frost than occurs inland, while loose, sandy soil allows the potatoes to expand more easily than in clay soil. They’re usually on shop shelves from around May until July. Announced at the Royal Highland Show in 2014, the PGI bid is currently being subjected to UK government and European Commission scrutiny, and they’re hopeful of a favourable decision before the end of 2015.
‘I’m pretty confident it’s going to go through,’ says Jarvis. ‘PGI status recognises that some of the characteristics and the taste of a product derives specifically from where it is grown and produced. And I think that definitely applies in this case. Put simply, you won’t get a potato tasting quite like an Ayrshire potato from anywhere else.’