The perfect ingredient: Carroll’s Heritage Potatoes

James Wellock heads to Northumberland and Tiptoe Farm to help harvest some of Carroll’s delicious heritage potatoes.

Autumn is in full swing at Tiptoe Farm in Northumberland and Anthony Carroll is harvesting his prize Pink Fir Apple potatoes. It’s a tricky operation because these are heritage potatoes, a variety bred around the 1850s. As Anthony points out, harvesting Pink Fir Apples with a modern harvester “like the course of true love – never runs smoothly”.

Like fat red wriggly worms, these are wonky shaped spuds that grow close to the top of the soil mound and sit vertically as straight as soldiers. All things that prevent them from flowing easily through a modern harvester. In a nutshell, this explains why these deliciously flavoursome waxy potatoes are not grown en masse – as is also true of dozens of tasty heritage vegetables that have been abandoned in favour of easy- farm modern varieties. But that’s a bonus for small family-run business, Carroll’s Heritage Potatoes, which has carved a niche reviving these tasty old potato varieties.

The Carroll family have farmed at Tiptoe since the 1930s and Anthony and partner Lucy began growing heritage potatoes in 2000. The couple believed that modern day potato farming was too heavily focused on high yields, regularity, uniform size and perfect shiny skins – and there was not enough focus on taste, colour, texture and uses.

“A heritage potato could be described as one that was bred before 1850. We wanted to keep these old varieties going because if we don’t keep growing them then potentially you could lose these old varieties and that would be a shame,” he says.

The Carrolls started testing by growing four heritage varieties in their kitchen garden including Arran Victory, Pink Fir Apple, Red Duke of York and Red King Edward. Today the farm produces 17 different types of heritage potato on 50 acres which have been developed for their different flavours, textures, colours and cooking qualities. The Shetland Black is a Carroll favourite due to its unique appearance, exciting history and delicious flavour.

Lucy explains, “Our potatoes don’t replace other types and they sit alongside modern potato varieties but what they do do is bring something extra to a menu.”

She is keen for chefs to understand the unique uses, benefits and differences of each potato they sell. For example, Red Emmalie adds a vibrant red colour to a plate while Arran Victory has an amazing blue-purple skin. Mayan Gold with its very, very dry floury texture and perfect gold colour makes amazing roasties while Aura, with its beautiful waxy texture, is great for mash. “These potatoes all have their own individual uses and that’s what makes them perfect ingredients. It’s just a case of helping chefs and cooks understand more about them.”

Carroll’s maintains the high quality of its potatoes through its dedication to organic growing using an integrated farm management system.

The Pink Fir Apple potato is growing in popularity with Wellocks’ chefs and we were delighted to share a box of the newly harvested spuds with chef patron Bruce Elsworth at the The Angel Inn at Hetton. Bruce made a stunning pomme mousse serving it with panfried hake and Scottish girolles. “This is no humble spud, it’s a real heritage potato,” said Bruce. “You can let down any mash to this consistency but when you make it with waxy rich flavoursome new potatoes like the Pink Fir Apple you get something that’s seriously tasty.”

We couldn’t agree more.