The Humble Spud

I have a friend who is in the fruit and vegetable business both growing and selling on a significant scale and so he knows his spuds. He is always astounded when people don’t store their spuds in the fridge and then wonder why they spoil so quickly.

Forget your fancy storage bags, baskets and pots; he is adamant that the only place to store fruit and vegetables at home is in the fridge. (Barring the fact you are one of the few who may have a cold room, cold dark pantry or a cold cellar in the house.)  The average home these days is far too well heated for fresh produce to endure. So if you want your carrots and spuds to last a little while longer then take his advice. I did and I haven’t looked back.

My fridge is never without some variety of potato rumbling around in the vegetable drawer.   Of course my peers from the Looney Low Carb Left and those from the Fanatical Fat Free Brotherhood would no doubt like to take my spuds and my butter from my fridge and have me tarred and feathered for giving them any room at all. Well here it is, I am taking up my metaphorical megaphone and declaring that the humble spud is good for you, full of vitamin C, is relatively inexpensive and should be put firmly back on the family shopping list of food lovers and healthy eaters. There is little as natural as an Irish potato, grown and sold locally.


In the past decade spuds seem to have been cast aside for pasta, rice and all manner of grains from cous cous to bulghur wheat. Now I have no problem with any or all of the above, but life is about moderation and variety and something as Irish and home grown as the spud must not be overlooked. Indeed I think our new over dependence on pasta and rice could be part of the current obesity problem we are attempting to tackle; but that’s another day’s work.

There also seems to be a lack of knowledge around spuds. Old, new, and the myriad of varieties have caused confusion for the urban population. In the spring and summer potatoes sold soon after they have been taken from the ground are called ‘new’ potatoes; in other words freshly harvested. These are often, although not exclusively, small and have a light, feathery skin that can be rubbed off in the hand. New potatoes tend to cook quickly and have a slightly sweeter taste than the more mature. Old potatoes are harvested and then kept for anything up to 12 months before being sent to market. The skins are thicker and more robust and all the natural sugar will have converted into starch by the time they get to the kitchen.

But let’s park for a second on the versatility of this little tuber. Can you recall the last time you had a proper chip, (not synthetic French fries) a hand cut, thick and crispy baton of potato? When expertly cooked there is little to rival it for simplicity and taste. I had a recent late night indulgence at a traditional chip shop; one that buys potatoes by the sack load and peels and chops them by hand before cooking them to perfection. Given the rarity of this, I found myself enjoying a bag of chips in a darkened car after midnight with all the enjoyment of an extravagant experience at a swanky restaurant. What about a fluffy baked potato, a great roast spud or a plate of creamy mash? The potato can be twice cooked; boiled and mashed and then turned into potato cakes or fried in slices to use up leftovers at breakfast. It can be shredded and squeezed to within an inch of its life and made into rosti, it can be used as a topping, as a base, as an addition and thickener and it can also be eaten cold. There are many ways to cut and slice it and it combines so well with so many other foods from meat to vegetables, plus it can be eaten at any time of the day; breakfast, lunch and dinner. When we take an overview we wonder why the spud is humble at all, it has so much to boast about.Individual Potato-Topped Steak and Chorizo Pies thumbnail

Potatoes are a great source of vitamin C, however vitamin C is water soluble so if you can, it’s best to steam or bake potatoes to retain the value. There are also great nutrients to be found in potato skins. If you are making homemade chips try and chop them with the skins on and I urge you to experiment with oven cooking hand cut chips rather than always deep frying them. I tend to sprinkle them with a little olive oil and, if I have any to hand, I throw in some sprigs of fresh rosemary for extra flavour, and bake them.

I’m not suggesting you stop using rice and pasta, but I would urge you to revisit the potato. It is a very economical way of stretching a meal while being full of comfort and great memories for many. Just don’t forget, to store your spuds in the fridge, there is no better way.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of  James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Food Market Monkstown and Avoca Rathcoole. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers

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