Potatoes are a huge part of the Irish culture. They are such a big part of the culture that it is considered normal to have two, or even three types served at one meal. I am a Canadian living in Ireland, and though I grew up with potatoes on occasion, I rarely cook them myself.
This past weekend I attended my first Irish wedding. For the main entrée, there was a choice of beef sirloin served over an herbed potato base. The other option was a fish, which happened to be my choice. As is customary in Ireland, the waitresses came around offering mash (mashed potatoes) and roast potatoes. When I declined, the friend I accompanied turned to me in shock “You’re not having any potatoes!?” “I’m not a huge fan” I shrugged. A few minutes later, the gentleman who was overseeing the team of waiters and waitresses approached my table and said to me in absolute horror “Were you not served potatoes?” I found this quite comical. The thought had never crossed anybody’s mind that I would willingly decline the beloved spud! The man was clearly horrified, probably about to throw the towel at some innocent waiter! We all shared a laugh and went back to our meal. A few moments later, another waiter approached me “Would you like some potatoes?”
A Brief History of the Potato in Ireland
It is not known how the potato made it’s way to Ireland, although there is a popular myth that says it was first introduced in Youghal (pronounced yall) in County Cork by a Sir Walter Raleigh. It was initially used as a supplementary vegetable by all social groups, but gradually became a staple for the poorest section of society. They were mixed with skimmed milk or buttermilk and became the main component of their daily diet.
The Great Famine hit Ireland in 1845. This was caused when disease struck the potato crop. At least one million people died of starvation. The famine was so severe that many families had no choice but to struggle for survival or emigrate out of Ireland. During this four year period, the population of Ireland was cut in half!
The Irish are an incredibly resilient people group, and apparently, so is the humble potato as it has again stolen center stage on the Irish table.
The Good Part... RECIPES!!
Here are two of Ireland’s most famous Potato Recipes. Perhaps after trying them, you will see why it is so highly celebrated in the Emerald Isle. Enjoy!
4 Mashing Potatoes (for best results, use Rooster Potatoes)
¼ Cup Milk
1 Tbsp Butter
Wash and peel the potatoes
Cut into evenly sized pieces.
Put in a pot and cover with cold water.
Cover with a lid and bring to a boil.
When they start boiling, turn the heat down so they are bubbling gently.
After about 20 minutes test to see if they are soft.
Add milk and butter, mashing with a potato masher until smooth with no lumps.
Add spring onion, blanched garlic or fresh herbs if desired.
2 kg (approx. 4 lbs) King Edward Potatoes, peeled
2 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp polenta or extra flour
5 tbsp goose fat
5 tbsp vegetable oil
Cut the potatoes into quarters or eighths.
Put quarters into a large pan of salted water.
Boil for 5 minutes, just until the outside starts to soften.
Return potatoes to the pan and sprinkle with flour, polenta and a little salt.
Place a lid on the pan and give it a couple of good shakes, coating the potatoes.
Place the goose fat and oil in a roasting tin large enough to hold all the potatoes in one layer and heat in oven for 5 minutes.
Quickly add potatoes and return to the oven. Cook for 30 minutes at 375 (190 C)
Turn once, then increase heat to 425.
Cook for 20 minutes longer until crisp all over.
Sprinkle with a little more salt and serve.