- 10th May 2019
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When you say ‘New potatoes’ many people automatically think of Jersey Royals. But the first New potatoes of the year actually grown in mainland UK are those in Cornwall. While Jersey’s climate benefits from it being the most southern of the British Channel Islands, Cornwall’s extreme south westerly location presents similar opportunities.
When are Cornish New potatoes planted?
Cornish farmers are able to plant some of their earliest potatoes in January on specially selected land on the coast. The milder maritime climate and the sea breezes help to keep the fields largely frost-free through the winter. And with nowhere in Cornwall more than 20 miles from the sea, spring comes that little bit earlier than the rest of the country.
Considering it’s less than 120 square kilometres in size, Jersey produces a massive crop of potatoes – between 30,000 and 40,000 tonnes each year. Although Cornwall is around 30 times the size of Jersey, they grow around 100,000 tonnes of potatoes here. A lot of the land is just too wild for farming. This rugged peninsula is around 80 miles long with 400 miles of coastline and Cornish farmers have a range of different landscapes to work with.
Through the generations they’ve learned how to select the best land for planting at different times so that they get the benefits of the microclimates across the county. The earliest, during the first few months of the year, tend to be the fields that slope up from the English Channel, catching the sun and benefiting from the Gulf Stream.
What varieties are Cornish New potatoes?
Jersey Royals are all the same variety – International Kidney - which was created back in 1880 and they are typically grown as a New potato. Cornish farmers grow carefully selected varieties of potatoes that are ideally suited to their land.
Fast-growing Rocket is one of the earliest, which tends to be popular locally, and you can see it for sale at farm shops as early as April. Next comes Jazzy, then Maris Peer, Gemson and Lady Christl. These are all perfect Early potato varieties, with a mild, slightly sweet taste and a firm texture that keeps it shape when cooked.
How are Cornish New potatoes grown?
The farmers monitor their crops very closely as they grow, checking their progress regularly as the potatoes develop underground. They will be harvested just as soon as they are big enough, while the leaves are still green above the ground. This means that they retain their natural sweetness and have soft, fluffy skin that just rubs off gently. These fresh, delicate New potatoes aren’t around for long though, so you need to make the most of them as soon as they’re available – between mid-May and mid-August.
For inspiration on how to cook with Cornish New potatoes, visit our recipe section.