It was called a Fluke, because there were ordinary potatoes in this field in St Ouen, and the potatoes just turned out like this. They weren’t special bred, they just happened. Perhaps the conditions made them change. Anyway the first ones began to multiply, and everyone liked them so they became the main attraction in the potato world!
The season is getting off to a slow start though. This is where Brexit is biting us like this cold snap we are getting at the moment. We normally draft in seasonal workers to help plant and lift this crop.
It is backbreaking work, as the best fields are cotils. Steep small fields on hillsides facing the sun. These are the fields planted first, then they are wrapped in plastic sheeting to keep them warmer. The plastic sheeting is used over and again and then disposed of safely.
This is a hand planted crop, and hand lifted so that the beautiful little potatoes are not damaged by machinery and forks. Our ground is rich and fertile. The farmers are taking special care with every seed potato planted. Each one is given fertiliser right in the planting hole. This saves on fertiliser and cuts down on blanketing the fields with it and causing large run off into the water table.
In the old days they were fertilised with sandy seaweed. Many fields are still given this treat. It is all labour intensive. There were pictures in our local paper at the end of the summer last year showing an old vraicing cart being pulled by a dray collecting seaweed. This is how it was done before tractors.
All the slipways on our island have a special surface laid so that the dray horses could get a grip on the slope. The stones are laid so that the edge is raised up where the horse can brace itself against the stones to pull the cart up the slope. There are wonderful old lithographs and pictures by Blampied of the Farmers collecting vraic, which is the local name for bladderwrack seaweed.
Anyway a supermarket in the UK was pulled up last week for selling potatoes packaged as Jersey Royals. So beware, there is only one real Jersey Fluke.
This is a very tasty, nutty flavoured little potato. It is kidney shaped, has a very delicate skin when it is new and just lifted. It Can be easily bruised and damaged. It needs cosseting from the time the seed potatoes are hand chitted. This is where the seed potato is lifted and then put in special Jersey wooden trays with a handle, and stored in lit sheds over winter. They are stood upright by hand to make them sprout from their eyes, these are the little roots that form in a deep purple colour. These are very delicate and have to be handled with care.
Our problem now, with the poor exchange rate for the British Pound, is that our traditional seasonal workers from Europe don’t find they make enough money to make it worthwhile coming here in the early February days, to work in the open in the cold, in backbreaking work to plant these gems.
We have Romanians this year for the first time, but the news is that out of 60 employed by one farm, only 15 remain. The work is too hard. They are not going to make enough money doing it because the exchange rate has stayed so low. They have gone home.
We are going to have Flukegate on our hands if we can’t get these little treasures in the ground. Our farmers are delayed anyway, as the ground was very wet, now this week it is going to be frozen. So the early crop will be at a premium. These are the very small exquisite potatoes for the Easter feast.
I am going to go and get a half tray this week and plant them in a potato growing bag, if the field grown ones are possibly going to be late, and at a huge premium even locally, It is a good idea to grow enough for the traditional Easter treat in a small spot in the garden.
We have a competition in the schools too. It is growing the potatoes in a bucket. The young children enter the growing competition, then on a chosen day everyone’s bucket is emptied and the new potatoes weighed. The winner of course is the one with the most weight of Jersey Flukes! It is on the radio all day while the weighing is going on. This is a bigger event than a big Horticultural show. It’s delightful.
The only comparable potato is the French Noirmoutier potato. These are good. They aren’t Jersey Royals though. They are not kidney shaped, waxy, and they don’t have the nutty flavour.
So if you are looking to buy this delicacy this year, make sure you cook it like we do. We give ours a light wash, but keep the skins on. You should be able to rub the skin off easily if it is rubbed, but we leave ours on. Just bring them to the boil and turn down immediately to a simmer for about ten minutes.
These potatoes are expensive in the first lifting, so if it’s your first time cooking them, just cook one so you get an idea how long to cook it for. This is the chefs perks of course. Just strain the potatoes in to a very warm but not scalding little dish and lavish them with good butter. Jersey butter just tastes best on them. The very yellow local butter from our Jersey Cows.
Do not put mint in with them! It is sacrilege. You want to taste this little potato, not a scraggy bit of mint. Put the mint on the spring Lamb you are going to eat the Jersey Royal Fluke with.
And enjoy the most wonderful taste trip. They are worth every penny to have this traditional taste of Spring food. The first real Spring crop. And make sure you are getting the real thing. Not some imported lookalike that wasn’t grown in good Jersey soil.
They are really meant to have a bit of ground on them, it keeps the flavour. We have to wash and pack them here as British housewives don’t want to buy our bit of dirt. Anyway if we wash it off, we can keep it, we don’t want to add value to your potatoes with our bit of prize ground!