Shetland Black Potatoes
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, more pronounced in some tubers than others. It looks beautiful raw but sadly the colour doesn’t survive the cooking process, where the purple in both the ring and the skin becomes a murky grey-brown. 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 flavour. It possesses a light, floury texture; this is why are best cooked in their skins, normally boiled. 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. But today the variety has disappeared from the islands, even though Shetland Black seed potatoes are available commercially for mainland growers. Shetland Black potatoes like many heritage varieties are not as high yielding as more commercial varieties. This coupled with the fact that today’s consumers prefer a white-fleshed potato with very little blemishes has led to fewer crofters growing this traditional variety. The potato is available on the market but only in small quantities, reflecting its status as a variety at risk. Its few producers are today represented by the Scottish Crofting Federation.