Famine Lumpers on the menu and in shops

David Morrow (left) and Michael McKillop of Glens of Antrim Potatoes with Irish Lumpers. photograph: dave meehan

David Morrow (left) and Michael McKillop of Glens of Antrim Potatoes with Irish Lumpers. photograph: dave meehan

Fri, Mar 8, 2013, 00:00

The Irish Lumper was on the menu at the Boxty House in Dublin’s Temple Bar yesterday afternoon and restaurant owner Padraic Gallagher wasn’t far wrong when he described it as “a little bit of Irish history on a plate”.

The Lumper was the predominant variety of potato in Ireland before the Great Famine. In the early 1840s it was eaten by 80 per cent of the population but blight blackened its name. It had all but disappeared by the time Michael McKillop of Glens of Antrim Potatoes brought it back nearly seven years ago.

He had been given a Lumper seed by an amateur potato enthusiastic and grew it in his garden for two years before deciding to grow it commercially. He got seeds from the Scottish Agricultural College, the genetic bank for all potatoes grown in the UK, after which it took five years to grow it in sufficient quantities to take it to market.

Lumpers will be on the shelves of Marks Spencer shops in Ireland from Monday and, following a huge level of interest in the last week, in a number of its branches in Britain too. “The number of customers who have been asking this week when they can get it has been astonishing,” said an MS spokesman yesterday.

The Lumper used to be a big lump of a spud but McKillop felt it was best to harvest the potatoes before they grew to their full potential so as not to offend 21st century sensibilities. It is ugly, all knotted and gnarly, but it is still going to be a welcome addition to any plate in the weeks ahead not least because of its value as a conversation starter. But never mind the history, what does it taste like? In a word: lovely. It neatly straddles the waxy and the floury camps and has a strong flavour.