In search of Nova Scotia Blues

ALONG in August, my Maritime grandfather would begin to dig his new potatoes, and his ``Nova Scotia Blues'' were a great treat after using up the shriveled remnants of last year's wintered-over crop. The day he felt the new potatoes were ready, he would trundle his wheelbarrow from the barnyard, through the fence gap into the field, and with his hand digger he would ``turn out'' enough ``blues'' to fill the wheelbarrow. Then he would retrundle, bringing the wheelbarrow to the kitchen door of the house, where he would leave it to go and finish other morning chores.

When Grandmother had the breakfast things put away, she would come out, gather her apron into a carrier, and pick out what potatoes she would want for dinner and supper. And just before dinnertime, Grandfather would return to push the wheelbarrow over to the hog pen, where he would dump the rest of the load over the fence. The moral of this is that the pigs on Prince Edward Island ate as high off the hog as the people did.

The Nova Scotia Blues were a distinct potato among the other kinds then grown. It was a long time ago, now, that Grandfather told me about the ``Bluenoses.'' The Nova Scotians, he said, were partial to these potatoes and many a Gaelic-speaking Cape Bretoner, out of pure patriotism, would touch no other kind. The ``blue'' is really more purple than blue, and the elongated shape of the potato could cause one to imagine it looks like the beak, or honker, of some Lunenburg doryman who had exposed himself too liberally to the prevailing northeasterlies of the Bank, until his snout resembled a Nova Scotia Blue. I've been told since that Nova Scotians originally resented this comparison and didn't like to be called Bluenoses, but that time has mellowed things and now they don't mind at all. That may be so, but I remember well how my grandfather laid a bluenose potato up between his eyes and made believe he was a Nova Scotian.

Since I've had my own gardens, I've planted a few blues every season - partly in sentimental recollection, but also because they are a good potato. We like our Green Mountains best, but the blues make a pleasant change, and you can't beat them for FFPots. Along in August I begin using them, and when the very small ones are boiled in the pot with some green peas, they ``go some old goo-ood.'' But the summer of 1986 was a curious season in my garden, and the blues I kept for seed were few and ``poorly.'' I decided I needed some new seed stock, and when I couldn't find any blues in this part of Maine, I turned to the Department of Agriculture and Marketing for the Province of Nova Scotia, Halifax B3J 2M4. My letter was dated Jan. 26, 1987, and I asked for the name of a seedsman who might favor me. I enclosed Canadian postage, too.

On the 17th of February I had a reply from Miss Veronica Blum, information secretary, who apologized for not getting back to me sooner. She said it took a lot of doing, but she had finally tracked down a grower in Nova Scotia who still has blues. She said he was Paul Boylen of Centreville. Miss Blum had said, ``Blues are not very popular anymore.'' I then wrote pleasantly to Mr. Boylen, sending him $10 (Canadian) with a request that he mail me as many Nova Scotia Blues as that sum would permit. I explained that mine was a home garden, and I would be happy with enough to plant 25 or 30 hills.

Mr. Boylen is a good man. People like him, growing acres upon acres of potatoes for seed and table, talk in carload lots, and when he says ``a blue'' he would mean a 24-wheel trailer-truck of blues. So he was kind enough to bother with me, and when May warmed so things wouldn't freeze in my mailbox, I got his package and was glad. However, his note with my seed disturbed me. He said these were not the true blues, but were a new kind - Blue Macs. Not registered yet in Nova Scotia; he hoped to have some registered seed another year. So here was the last grower of blues in Nova Scotia sending me something else!

I planted Mr. Boylen's Blue Macs, and they look fine and I hope for a crop. I also got some real blues from a farmer at Cape North, as far as you can go in Nova Scotia - not a seedsman; one Jim McEvoy who just happened to have a few. So I've got new blues after all, and we've been eating them, and I'll have my seed for next year. I think I may even have a few I could spare for Nova Scotians who care to reinstate the bluenose. It's a shame to let anything like that lapse.

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