By Ron Ramey Herald Writer
The Irish and potatoes are a natural association, but what place should we associate with potatoes?
Many people would say Idaho or Ireland, maybe because of the “famous potatoes” slogan or the infamous potato famine, but it really took a few thousand years for potatoes to reach those places.
No, spuds originated down south. Way down south. In 2007, scientists (they’ll study anything) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of La Laguna (Canary Islands) and the International Potato Center (Lima, Peru) found genetic evidence proving that the European potato originated in Peru and Chile.
Peru and Chile are still arguing, among many things they argue about, over the claim of where the first potatoes were grown.
The tubers found their way to the Canary Islands with returning conquistadors about 1540, and eventually to Europe, where many people at first turned up their noses at the ugly roots, at least until they figured out how to deal with them. Eventually potatoes became a staple, especially among the poor.
These poor huddled masses carried their potatoes to North America, and in time an Idaho license plate slogan was born.
Incidentally, Washington is no piker in the potato business, producing almost 9 billion pounds compared to Idaho’s 12 billion, according to the Washington State Potato Commission. (There’s a commission for everything.)
But let’s get back to the Auld Sod. After all, it is St. Patrick’s Day.
The Irish embraced the lowly potato, because the soil was so well suited for it and undoubtedly because many of the people were so miserably poor.
It became such an integral part of their diet that a potato blight and subsequent famine of the 1840s led to the deaths of more than a million people and caused another million to leave the country.
But the country endured, even gained its independence from Britain, and the potato also made a comeback.
So get a sack of simple spuds and celebrate St. Paddy’s day with a few recipes from Ireland.
3 medium potatoes
1 large onion, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
1/4 pound raw bacon
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons grated cheese
Peel potatoes and cut into thin slices. Place a layer of potatoes and onion in a greased baking dish. Sprinkle with seasonings, parsley and diced bacon. Dot with butter. Repeat layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with potatoes. Pour in milk and sprinkle top with grated cheese. Cover and bake in preheated oven (350 degrees) for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake until potatoes are done and top layer is brown.
Irish smashed potatoes (Colcannon)
2 cups green cabbage, shredded
2 cups mashed potatoes
1/4 cup green onions, sliced
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Butter or margarine
Heat 1/2-inch water to boiling. Stir in cabbage, cover and heat to boiling. Cook 5 minutes, drain. Prepare mashed potatoes, fold in cabbage, onions and pepper. Dot with butter, sprinkle with parsley.
There are variations on these potato pancakes, but all are similar and recommended as breakfast fare with eggs, bacon, sausage, etc. Derivation of the word is the Gaelic bacstai (grilled over fire).
1 9-ounce russet potato, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups grated peeled russet potato (about one 9-ounce potato), squeezed dry in kitchen towel
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cook cut potato in saucepan of boiling salted water until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain. Return to saucepan and mash. Transfer 1 cup mashed potato to large bowl. Mix grated potato, flour, baking soda and salt into 1 cup mashed potatoes. Gradually mix in enough buttermilk to form texture of firm mashed potatoes.
Heat a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Brush with oil. Drop 1 heaping tablespoonful potato mixture into skillet. Using back of spoon, flatten mixture into 2-inch round. Repeat, forming four more rounds. Cook over medium-low heat until boxty is golden brown on bottom and slightly puffed, about 3 minutes. Turn and cook until second side is brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer to baking sheet; keep warm in oven. Repeat with remaining potato mixture in batches, brushing skillet with more oil as necessary.