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Sober Life
by Sinclair Newton



Sober Life

I’m very fond of mashed potato. It’s so comforting. Of course, you need sausages and onion gravy to go with it, but fluffed up with a fork and with the addition of hot milk and a bit of butter it is a feast.

It’s not particularly a part of Ibicenco food culture, largely because the red-skinned potatoes that grow here are perfectly good peeled, cut into chunks and boiled with nothing else done to them. That’s apart from the lovely salt added by the fingerful.

They also seem to grow several crops a year. I’ve seen a family harvesting a field of them near San José and cutting some in half and replanting them straight away, something you can’t do in most of the world.

Now I see that the world’s first mashed potato expert has been appointed by supermarket Tesco to crack a market worth millions of Euros.

Irish girl Seaneen O’Neill - or Miss Mash as Tesco would have her known - will be in charge of making sure that all of the mashed potato Tesco sells is the best in the world.

Ready-made mash? Is it boring to peel a few potatoes and mash ‘em up?

Her appointment is an official recognition of what everyone in Ireland has always believed and no-one in Ibiza seems to have considered: making top class mashed potato isn’t a mundane chore but an art form.

The lovely-named Seaneen (I hope that’s not patronising, or Martin will be onto me) allegedly says: “Even the direction you beat the potatoes - and the mood you’re in when you do it - will have an influence upon the final taste and texture.”

I take “the mood you’re in” to mean whether you’ve just downed the one which could be anything from a large Scotch to a glass of wine larger than the one you are going to add to the gravy.

“Tasting fine mash is like tasting vintage wine - once you’ve experienced it, there’s no going back, “says Seaneen in a press release that popped up in my email today. So I think she’s got the point even if I haven’t got the plateful.

Tesco believes Seaneen’s fine palate - and a collection of recipes handed down by her grandmother - will give them a major advantage in a ready-meal market worth a million Euros a year.

I think there is a market for instant mash, as long as it is made from real potatoes, but this gushing press release is a bit more than I can take and I suppose that it’s because years of drinking still make me hanker for making a dollop of mashed potatoes without the help of a supermarket.

Seanaan’s alleged knowledge and taste buds have helped develop Tesco’s prestigious finest range of ready meal foods, it says here.

Some of her spud mixes include Finest Irish Cheddar Mash, Finest Bacon and Spring Onion Mash, and Finest Cumberland Sausage and Double Butter Mash.

As yet there isn’t a Finest Soberasada With Added Paprika (Dulce) Mash, but there could be.

Seaneen, nowadays a mainland rather than an Island person remarks: “Knowing that millions of people every week are eating the recipes I’ve helped develop is an incredible thrill.

“I believe that good mashed potato is one of our national delicacies. The rich, smooth melt-in-your mouth flavour acts as the perfect backdrop to all genres of cooking as well as being a perfect dish to eat on its own.”

Born and bred in Bangor, Northern Ireland, Seaneen’s finely tuned palate can select the best quality mash even when she’s blindfolded. It says... Can you picture Seaneen with her blindfold on and a forkful of mash heading towards what in Ireland they would call her gob?

The press release says Miss Mash spends several hours each week tasting mashed potato made from a huge number of potato varieties as well as mash made using different cooking methods and ingredients. Well I know lots of building workers and truck drivers who spend several hours EACH DAY doing the same thing and they pay for the privilege.

The press release about Seaneen, who is only 23, is a masterpiece and I can’t help repeating it here. She is quoted as saying: “The quality of mash can vary even within batches of the same potatoes grown in adjacent fields. Using milk produced at different times of the year or form (sic) different herds can also have an effect.

“Even the order that the ingredients are added to the final mix can also play a part.

“I’m constantly looking for a rich flavour and smooth buttery taste, together with a linen white appearance. The ideal mash should also have a slight fluffy stiffness so that the mash can sit up the plate, yet still melt in the mouth.

“As a girl I would eat mash daily and would make traditional Champ and Colcannon mash with my mum and gran.

“I can’t get enough of the stuff and with so much mash-tasting experience; I guess I have become a connoisseur of this Irish institution.

“In Ireland we have mash-making down to a fine art and it’s a privilege to be able to pass on this knowledge to Tesco.”

Visiting Irish pubs and restaurants to taste authentic Irish mash dishes is also an important element to Miss Mash’s research. I seem to remember that tasting the slow-poured Guinness was of more concern to me, but that’s another story and another life.

But Seaneen is also giving mash what Tesco calls “a more modern flavour” with new ready meal dishes such as Pancetta and Spring Onion Mash, and Mustard and Onion Mash. What on earth is “more modern” about adding some mustard is a mystery to me?

Using milk instead of cream gives a lighter mash texture, it says here. But it doesn’t tell you the milk should be hot, because they are not telling you how to make it, but making the case that you should buy it already made by them.

Seaneen is quoted as saying: “It’s like choosing a pastel colour rather than a saturated hue to let the subtlety of the accompanying ingredients come to the fore.

“That’s the beauty of mash - altering the combinations gives you the most versatile food in the world.”

Gosh! She should be writing the ibizahistoryculture.com “Artists on Ibiza” feature.

Seaneen was selected from a number of mash students at Jordanstown University in Northern Ireland. I wish I’d been a mash student. Can you imagine what it would be like to spend your formative years mashing potatoes and finishing up with a good job at Tesco’s?

I suppose we have to remember the rest of her class who may be great at mash, but haven’t got a job. I think I’d like to marry one of them.

Her tips for good mash are to use potatoes such as King Edward’s or Desiree, full cream, and good quality butter and cheddar. I think hot milk is better, but she’s keeping some of the other vital tips a secret and anyway she’s never seen thrice a year potatoes from Ibiza, I’ll bet.

I have and I’ve had to buy them because there was nothing else and I must say that the ones that finish up in the market for general consumption are not as attractive as the ones people grow for themselves and I think that’s to do with the island’s economy.

I think we should get Seaneen (don’t you just love her name; Sean with a female-identifying appendage and I keep thinking “Miss Mash, she was having bash”) over to Ibiza and see what she can do with the red-skinned numbers.

You see she says the potatoes you use can make or break the quality of the mash you produce and using butter and cheese with strong and distinctive flavours is vital. The problem is that cows don’t seem to like the environment too much in Ibiza, where goats love it and so do the expats who live here.

“The Irish like their mash creamy and fluffy rather than stodgy and thick, so the trick is to use lots of fresh full cream, Seaneen says.

I love this next bit because it is so obviously made up: Tesco’s category manager (category manager?) John Burry says: “Seaneen is to mash what jelly is to ice-cream - they both go hand in hand. Take away Miss Mash you might as well take away the spuds themselves.

“Who better to create traditional mash than an Irish mash expert with a passion for potatoes?”

I would say anyone with a potato peeler, a pile of spuds and some hot milk - assuming you are sober enough to cope - could make their own, but it’s not the way the world and certainly Tesco is going.

For more information contact Gemma Hornett on +44 7850 93166 or Tesco Corporate Affairs on +44 1992 644645. Actually you could spend an aimless ten minutes looking at Tesco’s website, in case they decide to branch out to Ibiza. Perhaps you could email them and suggest they should, branch out to the Balearics on the basis that you will be able to get instant mashed potato and forgo the drink that goes with making it.

Sinclair Newton