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Shetland Black potatoes have been saved thanks to the efforts of the Isbisters who grow a small crop on their croft that are available in season on Shetland. They are also supporting the growing of these potatoes in school gardens on Shetland.
For the rest of us heritage potato companies will supply them and you can try growing your own.
Shetland Black potatoes are kidney shaped and have a distinctive dark purple skin. When the tuber is cut open, the flesh inside is a pale creamy yellow colour with a ring of purple. It looks beautiful raw but sadly the colour doesn’t survive boiling although can still hold the feint image when baked in wedges.
The tubers are also smaller than a modern variety, and a slightly erratic shape, kind of oval but often thin at one end and bulbous at the other. The Shetland Black has a sweet and buttery flavor, possesses a light, floury texture and is easy to grow. They are best cooked in their skins. Potatoes were introduced to the Shetland Islands as long ago as 1588, when they were believed to have been salvaged from a wrecked Spanish Armada ship.
When the crofters were cleared to the more marginal land, potatoes provided a nutritious food from the small areas of peripheral ground they were allotted. Today the variety has all but disappeared from the islands, and is available on the market in small quantities, thanks to the people of Shetland, in particular the Isbisters of Burland Croft, who still grow them. They are sold locally.
This is a seasonal product available on crofts on Shetland.
Seed potatoes can be purchased through Skea Organics, The Potato House
photo: Wendy Barrie