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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Spuds




In the days of yore (1969) cookbooks such as Time-Life’s The Cooking of the British Isles noted that “…in Ireland you will find that, in all probability, Paddy O’Connor eats a lot of fish and potatoes, partly because he is a Roman Catholic, and partly because a lot of fish and potatoes are produced in Ireland … In Kerry, the magic county, the country lanes in the early morning are full of flat-topped carts, each supporting a huge milk churn, pulled by aged horses.”

The author of this totally unromanticized vision certainly has a way with words. He claims that “Scouse, for example, a word related to ‘Scouser,’ a nickname often bestowed on those who admit to coming from Liverpool, is a kind of thin, poverty-stricken stew, said to have been introduced into that city by the Irish.”

According to him the natives prefer it that way — to tuck in to their gruel while dreaming wistfully of being Irish and having the privilege of digging your own peat over which to cook your soda bread because you lack electricity and gas and have no other option for survival. But hey — they “own a donkey and a small boat…so what more did they want?”

The caption to the photo above reads: “An Irish farm wife and her son dig a few potatoes for supper from their family patch in County Galway. Ever since potatoes were first brought to Ireland from the New World in the 17th Century, they have been a mainstay of the Irish diet.”

Curiously (and predictably) he ignores entirely a little something that happened in the summer of 1845 when Phytophthora infestans arrived like a malevolent tourist on the Emerald Isle’s green and bounteous shores and killed everything it touched.

The airborne fungus reduced healthy potato plants to slime almost overnight — and since by this time the spud had become the staple of a rather meager diet, it literally decimated the population, when over the course of three years one in ten died of starvation.

It didn’t just wipe the humans out; it also ended the long and noble reign of the Lumper potato, which had been the only variety of potato grown, making it exquisitely vulnerable to blight. There are no more Lumpers. The lumpenproletariat, however, clearly survived.

The Cooking of the British Isles, Time-Life Books, 1969

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