Potato farmer’s advice on picking the perfect spud

Maddie and Ann Tomlinson at Spuds & Berries Farm Shop.   Pic: Bruce Rollinson

Maddie and Ann Tomlinson at Spuds & Berries Farm Shop. Pic: Bruce Rollinson

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CHANCES are that around the Christmas dinner table on Friday there will be more than one person mentioning the quality of mum’s roast potatoes.

The funny thing is that the reason why the roasts are great or otherwise may not have anything to do with the ability of the cook. It could simply be down to the potato variety.

Ann Tomlinson runs the vibrant, bustling farm shop Spuds & Berries and restaurant Mr Vincent’s with her daughter Laura Wass at Bishop Meadows Farm in Babthorpe, between Howden and Selby. Her husband Mark is one of the UK’s leading authorities on potatoes having been in the industry for decades and is MD of the fast growing potato marketing co-operative Wholecrop Marketing in East Yorkshire.

Last week Mr Vincent’s was the venue for a potato tasting day that saw Mark joined by other prominent industry experts.

“What every producer is looking to come up with is the all rounder, the potato that will, chip, mash, roast and whatever else,” says Ann. “One of the reasons why Spuds & Berries is so successful is the attention to detail Mark is able to give us on varieties and their end usage. All our staff are trained on how each potato variety can suit customers’ needs. At Christmas everyone is looking for the perfect roast potato. Everyone else will tell you not to look further than the King Edward but it’s not my favourite. I like Sagitta for roasts and Shannon can do everything.

“We’re using the Deliciouslyorkshire variety for baked and salad potatoes in the restaurant and the shop; and we’re using Melody and Nectar for jacket potatoes.

“It’s quite interesting and very reassuring just how many of our customers ask what variety we’re using and then go into the shop to buy them afterwards. In the restaurant we cook them in foil and we don’t microwave at all. That makes a difference too.

“We had a number of buyers, sellers and end users here last week and they were trying 30 varieties. Our chef managed to get through all of the jackets, saw off the roasts and was halfway through the mash before he couldn’t cope any longer. He knows very little of potato industry phrases such as fry colours and starch content but he knows how a potato should cook.

“What the day showed was the quest among producers and suppliers for the perfect spud. It is clear that some will never step up to that mark, but that they may be good for one job like mash. That’s why we need to be aware of the qualities of each and it’s also why when you’re buying for roasts at Christmas you shouldn’t just pick out the potato that looks good.”

The Tomlinsons became tenants of Bishop Meadows Farm in 1987 and bought it outright in more recent years. The farm runs to around 100 acres of which Mark has about half down to potatoes.

“We grow potatoes for chip shops, markets and also supply the farm shop and restaurant all year round. We like to go out and dig the new potatoes for our customers.

“We also run a beef fattening herd. We had a small suckler herd of Hereford X South Devon cows but we’ve switched to buying-in and rearing-on Belgian Blue and Limousin X heifers that will go at around 500kg. We don’t want them too heavy for the farm shop.

“If we don’t have anything ready we try to buy locally. I’ve recently bought from John Hick and Jill Grantham nearby.”

Mark and Ann started a Pick Your Own soft fruit operation in 2009 that became the catalyst for the farm shop and then the restaurant.

“Once we’d opened the shop in 2011 there was then a demand for a restaurant/coffee shop.

“When we first built it we thought it would just be a nice little coffee shop with maybe teapots, scones and quiches but Laura’s vision was of a restaurant.

“We went for that market and employed chefs rather than cooks and for fine dining with quality produce and provenance but not at stupid money.

“I know where everything has come from not just our soft fruit, potatoes and beef. We use Anna’s Happy Trotters for pork and Soanes’ for poultry and many other local producers. That’s the reassurance our customers like.”

FARM’S FULL FAMILY ETHOS

It’s a real family affair at Spuds & Berries and Mr Vincent’s.

While Ann and Laura oversee the enterprise, Ann’s daughter-in-law Maddie runs the farm shop. She’s a sheep farmer’s daughter from Wagga Wagga in New South Wales, Australia.

Ann’s mum Margaret and step-father Gordon also put in their share. Gordon grades and washes all the potatoes and picks the fruit each morning.

Mark and Ann also have a son Simon, who recently returned from Australia with Maddie; and 10-year old daughter Louise who Ann says has been known to waitress, but won’t split her tips!

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