This spring marks the 140th anniversary of Jersey Royal potatoes, an agricultural icon with a quintessentially Jersey heritage. It is the only stem vegetable in the British Isles with Protection Designation of Origin status, like Parma ham, champagne and the Cornish pasty.
The long success story and staying power of the Jersey Royal began with a fluke of nature, when St Helier farmer Hugh de la Haye acquired three ugly and misshapen potatoes, displayed in a town merchant’s shop window to amuse passers-by.
Over dinner later at his farm at Mont Cochon with fellow growers, he decided to cut the tubers into 16 pieces, leaving each with an ‘eye’, from where shoots sprout to turn a potato into seed.
Mr de la Haye planted them in a small côtil above Bellozanne Valley, and when they were ready to harvest in 1878, he discovered to his delight that the curiously kidney-shaped progeny tasted fantastic – like no other new potato he had sampled.
Today, Mr de la Haye’s land is farmed by The Jersey Royal Company, the Island’s biggest potato grower.
‘It is quite surreal to stand in the fields where it all began, 140 years ago,’ the company’s marketing director, William Church, said. ‘We have had some great publicity in the UK media off the back of the anniversary.’
It has generated three features on Chris Evans’s radio show, with a live interview a fortnight ago between the presenter and Jersey farmer Phil Le Maistre, and an online conversation between St Ouen farmer Christine Hellio and TV chef Jamie Oliver, who has more than six million followers on Instagram.
Jersey Royals have also featured on ITV’s This Morning programme, when chef Phil Vickery visited the Island to dig the potatoes at first light before catching the ‘red eye’ flight to London to cook his harvest within hours, live on air.
Genuine Jersey chief executive John Garton heads the annual £100,000 Jersey Royals PR campaign. He says that focusing on the anniversary has generated a high level of interest among the national media. ‘It is a significant year for the Jersey Royals and we are using that to get the message out across the UK, to stimulate the market and encourage British consumers to look for Jersey Royals when they go shopping,’ he said.