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17.04.03
New potato campaign for Cornwall

The Cornish Early new potato is about to come into season and, for the first time, a county-wide campaign has been launched to encourage outlets to sell it and the public to eat it.

After years of market domination by new potato imports from Cyprus, Israel and Egypt, the Cornish Early new potato is being put back on the map – and the menu - by the farmers that grow it in West Cornwall.

As its name suggests, the Cornish Early is the earliest new potato to be lifted in all of Britain, and is known as a 'short season delicacy' because it's in season for just three weeks from the end of April. It is grown only in Cornwall, where the mild winters enable farmers to plant the crop in late December or early January to ensure an early harvest.

"It takes just one taste to realise the difference," says John Forster, farm business development adviser for Penwith. "The Cornish Early is a real delicacy, with a rich, sweet, distinctive taste all its own. They're also in shops within hours of being harvested, so they couldn't be fresher. Our message is for people just to try them, shops to stock them, restaurants to serve them. This is genuine local produce, which is also a real treat to eat."

According to Forster, if Cornish Earlies were enjoyed on a larger scale this year and every year, it would create a major opportunity for the county's farmers to expand the market, ultimately encouraging more producers to grow this lucrative crop and contribute to the local economy.

Point of sale material, table cards and recipe ideas are being made available to encourage local retail and catering outlets to support the campaign. Already major retail outlets such as Asda, Safeway and Somerfield have committed to stocking this seasons crop in their Cornwall stores, as well as major wholesalers supplying trade customers. However, trade customers are being urged to get their orders in early, as the crop is relatively small and this may result in limited availability.

The Cornish Early can be recognised by its dust-like skin which rubs off easily. The taste is rich and sweet, as most of the natural sugar has yet to turn to starch. It is jam packed with vitamins and minerals and, with less calories, less fat, more fibre and more vitamins than either pasta or rice, is a better source of starchy carbohydrate. The appeal of the Cornish Early is broad, ranging from families for being affordable, quick to cook and tasty, to the health and fitness conscious for being low in fat and high in energy.

For a short time only, the Cornish Early will be available in a variety of retail outlets around Cornwall and Devon from the very end of April until approximately the 24 May.

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Editor's notes:

A short season delicacy

The very earliest of the early new potatoes are lifted from the soil of the Penwith peninsula in Western Cornwall, at the very tip of the British Isles.

The mild winters and rich soil that characterise Penwith provide ideal conditions for this delicate local crop. The potatoes are planted in late December/early January and harvested at the end of April. They are in season for only three weeks.

How to spot a Cornish Early

Penwith's tiny potatoes have a delicate, dust like skin that can be rubbed off quickly, a rich, sweet flavour and excellent nutritional value.

They are much sweeter than normal potatoes because they are harvested when still premature. Within 24 hours of harvesting, much of their natural sugar will have turned to starch.

The Cornish Early holds its own against imported new potatoes grown by multinational companies in Cyprus, Israel and Egypt. These potatoes are less fresh, lower in quality and more prone to disease than the locally produced Cornish crop.

Cornish Earlies are in local shops and restaurants within hours of being harvested. They could not be fresher.

An original – not a pretender

A total of 8,536 hectares of early potato varieties was grown in Great Britain in 2001 and consumers can expect to see supermarket shelves laden with them year-round.

However, many of the newer varieties have had to sacrifice texture and flavour in the name of modern convenience and none, other than the more expensive Jersey Royal, have the characteristic delicate skin of the Cornish Early.

The local producers

There are 23 Cornish Early producers on the Penwith peninsula. Between them they grow around 200 acres of the crop.

This year's first Cornish Earlies crop is likely to be around 2000 tonnes.

About the campaign

Penwith Business Centre, with support from Penwith District Council and Cornwall Taste of the West, is driving a countywide campaign to promote the Cornish Early new potato. The objective is to create a demand for the potato amongst trade (restaurants and hoteliers) and consumers, supporting the efforts of Penwith's producers and demonstrating the potential of the market for growth.

Cornwall Taste of the West is a £3 million Objective One umbrella project, funded by the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF), the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and private matched funding. It is part of the Taste of the West regional food group. Cornwall Taste of the West's four year project includes a trade development programme and a marketing grant scheme, available to small and medium sized food businesses that produce, sell or process foods in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

Cook's Tips

Store Cornish Earlies out of their packaging and in a cool, dark, place until needed – but not in the fridge.

It is best to eat them within a day of purchase, to take advantage of their natural sweetness.

To prepare the potatoes, rub them with a damp cloth to remove the delicate skins then boil in lightly salted water for 15 minutes or until cooked.

The potatoes can be served on their own, with just a knob of butter and a sprig of mint, or topped with a variety of ingredients.

Try adding pesto and serving with grated parmesan.

Or add low fat cottage cheese and chopped chives.

Why not make a meal of it and serve Cornish Earlies with Cornish lamb or beef.

The British Potato Council has compiled a range of superb quick and easy recipes using new potatoes. Visit www.potato.org.uk/newpotatoes to find out more.

Health benefits

Forget pills and potions. If you are looking for the ultimate natural supplement, look no further than the potato!

Potatoes are naturally low in fat and cholesterol-free. They are the main vegetable source of vitamin C in the British diet; they contain valuable amounts of vitamins B6 and B1, folate, potassium and iron. They are also lower in calories than pasta or rice and provide more fibre. They are an excellent source of starchy carbohydrate, which nutritionists tell us we should eat more of.

The super potato can even help with the following:

Asthma - It has been shown that asthmatics can benefit from vitamin C and magnesium - the "breathe easy" mineral. An average portion of potatoes provides around half the recommended daily allowance (rda) of vitamin C and about 11 per cent of the rda of magnesium.

Hayfever – Sufferers are likely to benefit from boosting their immune system. It is thought that vitamin C-rich foods can also act as natural antihistamines, decreasing airway constriction. Potatoes are an important source of vitamin C, containing more weight for weight than an apple.

Muscle performance – Potatoes boiled in their skins are an excellent source of potassium, which helps to attain optimal muscle performance and improves the way our nerves react to stimulation. In addition, diets that are high in potassium and low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke.

Stress – An average serving of potatoes contains around 40 per cent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin B6, part of the group known to boost immune cells and calm nerves. Likewise, vitamin B6 has also been found to help relieve pre-menstrual tension because it helps break down oestrogen. Stress tends to deplete the body's resources of certain vital vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B6 and C and magnesium, which are all found in potatoes. Complex carbohydrates, such as potatoes, help the brain release of the calming chemical serotonin.

Blood disorders - An average portion of potatoes provides 20 per cent of the rda for iron. Iron is essential for making healthy blood cells as well as helping to fight infection.

Strokes and Heart disease – Research in the US indicates that regular consumption of vegetables high in folate can reduce stroke risk by 20 per cent. The chances of a heart attack or of developing high blood pressure are also smaller. Potatoes contain about 40 per cent of the folate rda.

Digestion – Adequate amounts of fibre are vital to a healthy digestive system. Potatoes are an excellent source, especially when eaten with their skins.

Energy – Potatoes are high in starch, a complex carbohydrate that is the main source of energy for the body. A serving of potatoes also supplies 48% of the rda for thiamin (vitamin B1), essential for the release of energy from carbohydrate foods and a component of many enzymes in the body.

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Jason Clark
Communications Manager
Objective One Partnership Office
Castle House
Pydar Street
Truro TR1 2UD
Tel: 01872 241379
Fax: 01872 241388
jason@dclark.co.uk

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