Four years ago, I was given a few Shetland Black “tatties” from my old Shetland neighbour and I have grown them ever since. My interest in potatoes has grown, and last year I bought Alan Romans’ The Potato Book. I realised the Shetland Black potato he describes is not the same I am growing, and that the official Shetland Black tattie registered is different. I have had the chance so speak to a lot of folk, and also to members of the Kenosha Potato group and this has strengthened my belief that the Shetland Black potato commercially available is different from the one grown by Shetland folk who have saved it themselves, sometimes for generations.
The “real” Shetland Black is round and knobbly (deep eyes) and very thick skinned. It is almost black and has the characteristic purple ring when it is cut, and some purple just beneath the skin too. It is very tasty, the flesh is whitish/light yellow and dense. It is one of the best keepers available, which was important back in the days when one had to produce their own food and store as much as they could for the long winter. Both male and female part of the flower the plant produces are fertile so it produces a lot berries, and therefore a lot of true potato seeds.
The “fake” Shetland Black (image from Suttonelms) is smooth and more oval in shape. The skin is thinner and more purple. It is not as prolific a berry setter. It has a purple ring when cut too.
Although I have known the difference for some time, it’s only relatively recently that it’s occurred to me that the real Shetland Black is in danger: because the potato registered officially is not the same, this means that it’s up to local and/or enlightened growers to keep it going, and there aren’t many of them. Most people, including Shetland folk, don’t know that the potato they buy is different from the one grown here.
I have contacted the Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture and will see where that leads. In the meantime, the more people become aware, the better chance there is to safeguard this tasty piece of Shetland culture.