The Jersey Royal potato did not exist before 1880 when Hugh de la Haye had some friends around for a meal. We know this because it is recorded that when they had eaten Hugh showed them a huge potato with 15 ‘eyes’ or sprouts. As an experiment the farmers cut the fifteen eyed potato into pieces and planted these pieces on a steeply sloping field (called a cotil) above Bellozanne Valley.
In the following spring the pieces of the fifteen eyed potato produced a good early crop. The crop was just plain ordinary potatoes apart from one plant which had produced nothing but small kidney-shaped potatoes.
Jersey Royal Potatoes being picked on a Cotil
These potatoes were small and peculiar in shape but they had a fantastic flavour and paper-thin skins. Hugh de la Haye and his friends christened these potatoes the Jersey Royal Fluke. 120 years later the Jersey Royal is a huge commercial success and grown only in Jersey. Hugh de La Haye never realised what he had found and made no money from his discovery because he shared it with his fellow farmers and did not exploit the success of his potato.
Since 1880 the Jersey Royal Potato has been carefully selected, refined and developed until it has become what it is today and today it accounts for almost half of the Island’s agricultural income. Approximately 19,000 verges of Jersey Royal Potatoes are planted every year. 45,000 tonnes of Jersey Royal Potatoes are exported every year which is 99% of the crop with an estimated value of just under £28 million.
Sacks of Jersey Royals
The Jersey Royal Potatoes unique and traditional method of production is protected by the same EU ‘product designation of origin’ that protects Champagne and Parma Ham..
It is partly the delicate thin skin of the Jersey Royal that makes it so tasty, not peeling a Jersey Royal adds to its distinctive flavour. With most of the nutritional value of a potato being in its skin, having a potato with a thin skin and fantastic natural flavour is not only tasty it is also very healthy.
Cook Jersey Royal Potatoes
Top chefs Delia Smith, Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver know how good our potatoes are they recommend the Jersey Royal. The Jersey Royal is grown in natural conditions and can be bought fresh within hours, rather than days, of being picked. Delia Smith says in her book, The Complete Cookery Course: ‘No foreign imports can usurp the native delights of British runner beans or potatoes like Jersey Royals.’
From April to June, Jersey Royals are at their very best.
Jersey farmer sorting Jersey Royals
The best Jersey Royals are hand planted outdoors in January and ready by April with harvesting continuing until the end of June. The first crop comes from the steep cotils facing south and west because these cotils catch the winter sunshine needed to make them grow.
Hand Picking Jersey Royal Potatoes
Potatoes planted on the steep cotils are hand-lifted, mechanical lifters can only be used for flatter fields.
In Jersey when we cook them we boil the potatoes in lightly salted water with a sprig of mint, then serve with a knob of butter.