The Irish potato is as well known as the Idaho potato but has a much more meaningful history in Ireland.
In the early years of the 1800s, Ireland was considered an agricultural nation and had about eight million people.Â The Irish were among the poorest people in the Western World.Â They married very young and had very large families.Â Over half of the population lived in one room hovels made of mud.Â They would have a dozen people living in these cabins and sleeping in straw on dirt floors. The Irish tenant farmer typically had less than ten acres and lived in poverty.Â Most were Catholic farmers and they rented their acreage from the Protestant âmiddlemen.â Â Â The middlemen had larger amounts of acres and then would divide them up to rent to the poor Catholic farmers.Â Any improvements made to the land would be considered property of the landlord so there was never an incentive to improve their living conditions.Â The middlemen were also known to keep dividing their parcels of land up each year making them smaller and smaller while increasing the rent.Â The tenant farmer would often allow landless laborers, known as cottiers, to live on their farms.Â The cottiers would help with daily chores and the harvest to pay their rent.Â In return, they had a small cabin and a potato garden for their families.Â Because of these conditions, the poor Irish farmers became totally dependent on the potato for their source of food.Â
The potato came to Ireland from the Andes Mountains of Peru and was found in the gardens of the gentry in the 1700s.Â The agricultural land in Ireland had been used to pasture cows for centuries which provided meat for the British.Â This had a devastating impact on the improvished people of Ireland as they were pushed off of the good pasture land and forced to survive on small plots of ground that were not good for agricultural purposes.Â This is when the Irish turned to raising the potato which was a crop that could survive the poor growing conditions and would grow without a lot of labor.Â An acre could produce about 12 tons of potatoes which were enough to feed a family of six for the year and would leave some to feed their animals.Â The potato was used as feed for the cows and pigs instead of grains.
More than three million Irish peasants had the potato as their only food in the early 1800s.Â The potato was rich in protein, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin, and Vitamin C so it was possible to stay healthy on potatoes alone.Â The Irish would also drink a little buttermilk if they had it.Â Occasionally they would have some salt, cabbage, and fish to use as seasoning on their potato.Â The Irish peasants were actually healthier than the peasants in England or Europe where bread was the main staple food.Â This is because potatoes deliver more complete nutrition than bread.
Between 1845 and 1849 a potato fungus (the blight) attacked the large potato crops of Ireland and resulted in the Irish Potato Famine.Â This fungus, which attacks the leaves and the roots (tubers), had the potatoes rotting in the ground and in 1845 it was estimated that as high as 50% of the crop was lost.Â In 1846, Â¾ of the harvest was lost due to the blight.Â
This caused enormous hardship on the people who lived in rural Ireland and in the fall of 1846 the first deaths were recorded due to starvation.Â Seed potatoes were scarce in 1847 and so the crop yields were only 2/3 of normal in 1848.Â As over 3 million Irish people were totally dependant on potatoes for their food, hunger and starvation was inevitable.Â
The Irish Potato Champ
Traditionally âchampâ was considered as peasant fare, but it has been featured on the menu at some of the finer restaurants in London.Â These creamy mashed potatoes are laced with scallions (or green onions) and are served in a peak that has the top dipped out, much like a volcano.Â The small dip in the top is filled with melted butter and the person eating the âchampâ will dip each forkful of potato into the butter.
Active preparation time: 20 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
- 5 large Idaho potatoes (about three pounds); peeled, haled lengthwise and cut into 1â chunks
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of 2% milk
- 1 bunch (6 to 8) scallions, washed, trimmed and thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons butter, melted
Place the potatoes in a small stockpot.Â Add cold water to cover potatoes by one inch.Â Bring the water to a boil over high heat.Â Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender.
While the potatoes are coo0king, combine the milk, scallions, salt and pepper in a small saucepan.Â Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally.Â Remove from the heat and set aside.
When the potatoes are done, drain them, but do not rinse them.Â Return the potatoes to the stockpot and mash with a potato masher.Â With a wooden spoon, stir in the milk mixture until all of the ingredients are well combined.Â
To serve, divide the champ between four dinner plates, making each portion a tall mound.Â Using the back of a spoon, make a small well in the top of each mound.Â Carefully pour one tablespoon of melted butter into the well on each portion. Â Serve immediately.
Estimated Nutritional Analysis per Serving:
36 mg cholesterol
289 mg sodium
8 g protein
13 g fat
67 g carbohydrates