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Old Fashioned Potatoes

January 2009
In Britain, when you go up a hill, you can be fairly sure that when you get to the top, there will be before you another hill – aha but that's only on foot or by bicycle – eventually you get to the top of all the hills, and then you start coming down the other side.
Not so in the Sibillini Mountains area of Italy; there when you get to the top of the hill, there is quite commonly a wide plain – it reminds me of the Monty Python sketch where the explorer talks of climbing Kilimanjaro and says that it’s a fairly stiff slog until you get to the top, at which point it levels orf a bit. That’s exactly what happens in the Sibillinis.
These plains are high, and flat and wide; very hot in the summer and often extremely cold in the winter. It is here that they grow those crops not so well suited to the lower altitudes: potatoes, onions, flowers for cutting, and lentils. The high plain between Caldarola and Foligno, based around the town of Colfiorito, is famous for potatoes.
Alongside the road, in every layby and track, is a tractor and trailer, with a farmer, or possibly it’s a salesman dressed as a farmer, selling potatoes. We been across this plain before and for the first time this time we stopped and bought some potatoes.
Small red-skinned, potatoes, of a floury texture when boiled, and eating them, as we did mashed with some sausage and cabbage and on a subsequent evening baked with some monkfish and onion, is for me a kind of evocation, a taste of my childhood. Potatoes don’t taste like that any more. It’s hard to pinpoint. Of course it may just be the variety of potato, though it could have something to do with intensity of cultivation that we now suffer. I had not realised the change that has taken place, until I was so reminded of it.


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