Honesty boxes in St Ouen
The origins of the Jersey Royal Potato can be found in 1878 when a Jersey farmer called Hugh de la Haye bought a large potato which had many “eyes” to it where new plants can be sprouted from. This was divided up and he and some friends planted a small field or “Côtil” at the top of Bellozane valley. This sloped field, facing the south and the sea produced an early and bountiful crop of these potatoes. One plant in particular turned out to be very different from anything they had seen before and the small gathering of potatoes around the roots of the plant were kidney shaped. This special crop of potatoes was a fluke and was thus named the Jersey Fluke and were the beginning of the Jersey Royal as we know it today.
The main characteristics of the Jersey Royal is the small kidney shape, papery thin skins that merely require a quick wash and their sweet, slightly nutty flavour.
Today production of the Jersey Royal is big business, with many of Jersey’s fields giving themselves up to the crop for the very short season. Some farmers still use traditional methods for growing, preferring to use the sloped sea facing fields and using the traditional seaweed fertiliser or vraic as it is known locally. I did a blind taste test a couple of years ago on the Royals which had seaweed fertiliser and those that didn’t and must admit the difference was quite remarkable, I and many others preferred the traditional method!
This well loved crop is now internationally recognised and has been given a Protected Designation of Origin or PDO by the European Union. This means that only Jersey Royals grown in Jersey on Jersey soil may be marked and sold as a Jersey Royal which is fantastic news for our farmers and their teams who work very hard over the season. It is a common sight to see teams of workers hand planting the crop, usually this is done in cold weather and is back breaking work!!
If anyone has flown into Jersey around March time you will think there is snow on the ground but it is merely plastic covering over the tiny potato plants in the fields helping them on their way to harvest. Come early April the covers are off and rich green dense plants can be seen. Weather permitting, mid April the fields are starting to be harvested and the honesty boxes around the island fill up with our golden nuggets of yummy Royals.
I am a big believer in the outdoor grown potatos, you can get the early indoor grown variety but they are not quite as good as the outdoor for me. Many people in the UK report that the Jersey Royals they buy in their supermarkets are ok but not special. For me crops of any kind are always best eaten as quickly from field to fork as you can…..so if you want the best Jersey Royals, visit the island end of April and come and try them for yourself!
Finally, how to serve them? The general view is boil them and serve them with a big knob of Jersey salted butter! This is my favourite although I did find a french butter which had seaweed in it which went very well – perhaps this year I will have a go at making my own blend using Jersey Butter!
Above is the list of genuine Jersey vegetable growers on the island, many of whom have honesty boxes for locals or sell through farm shops.
For all my local readers, check out this years Jersey Food Festival (more to come on this subject as I will be blogging my festival experiences) you can get up close to the producers of these wonderful potatoes whilst taking in a fabulous walk of the gorgeous parish of St Lawrence. Lets not forget our local restaurants who will all be serving these delicious nuggets whilst we are in the season!