Irish Potatoes

Joined Oct 28, 1999
I have been asked to do a kids cooking class to create Irish Potatoes. Given the recent St. Patrtick's holiday, I thought it interesting to splash some history into the class. However, I have come up empty on the origins of the Irish Potato. This cute, little confection resembles a potato and I am sure has a direct correlation to the Irish Potato Famine, but other than the obvious, I am coming up empty.
Joined Jul 24, 2001
You are right! It is related to the Irish Famine. :)

I happen to have a related book.
Let's wait a bit though, maybe someone comes with other information. Otherwise I will tell you what my books think.
Joined Jul 24, 2001

After the introduction of potato in Ireland they started calling it Irish potato just to distinguish it from the sweet potatos.

The planting of potatos in Ireland coincides with the celebration of Saint Patrick's Day.

The story of the Irish Potato and Irish Famine is sad, very sad, I don't know how appropriate for children.

I writte a couple of words about the hisroey of potato in general and then about Potato in Ireland.

At the end you will find some bibliography and the best site about the irish Famine

Archaeological evidence credits the natives of Peru with cultivating the earliest forms of potatoes approximately 4500 years ago.

Wild tubers have been found in the Peruvian plateau and mountainous regions, where it was too cold for wheat or corn. They provided an ideal source of nutrition as early as 10,000 years ago.
The tubers were easily stored and transported, and were resilient to the harsh climate.
The Mochia, Chimu, and Inca cultures developed frost-resistant varieties from wild tubers, called papa which they cultivated as a key part of their primarily vegetarian diet.

The potato played an important part in the lives of the South American natives both as an everyday food and as a cultural influence. The Quechua language records more than one thousand words to describe potatoes and potato varieties. Particularly in highly elevated regions where maize and wheat would not grow, the potato became the primary food.

The importance of the potato in the lives of Andean natives is evident in the religious ceremonies created surrounding the tuber. The Inca people worshiped potato gods and celebrated rituals to ensure the success of their potato crops. Rituals and sacrifices were offered to appease the gods especially in times of need.

About 1590, potatoes were introduced to Ireland

Many countries in Europe paid very little attention to the arrival of the potato from the New World. This is because most countries already grew enough food to feed their population, and so there was no reason to grow a new vegetable in large numbers.

However, the situation was different in Ireland

During the 1500's Ireland was torn apart by constant warfare between the country’s English rulers and Irish inhabitants, and between local nobles who were always fighting one another. As a result of this continual conflict, Ireland's peasant farmers had a hard time growing enough food to feed themselves, let alone anyone else.

It was into this starving, war-torn Ireland that the potato was introduced around the year 1600

No one is sure exactly who introduced the potato to Ireland.

Some believe it was the famous English explorer, sea captain and poet, Walter Raleigh. Others speculate that the potato washed up on the beaches of Ireland as part of the shipwreck of the Spanish Armada, which had sunk off the Irish coast in a violent storm.

However it arrived, one thing can be said for certain - the potato caught on very quickly in Ireland. The potato's popularity was based on the potato producing more food per acre than any other crops Irish farmers had grown before. In peaceful times the potato spread throughout Ireland as a healthy and reliable source of food. In times of war it was popular as well. When soldiers destroyed farmers' crops and livestock - as soldiers often did -, the potato would survive because it was hidden, buried below ground. When the soldiers left, people could still dig up potatoes and eat them.

The blight appeared in Ireland in 1845.

The blight was the fungus Phytophthora infestans which destroyed potato plants and was the principal cause of what came to be known as the Irish Potato Famine. The blight wiped out the potato crop in 1845, 1846 and again in 1848. People were left with nothing to eat and no way to make money to support themselves. Many wandered the countryside, begging for food or work. Others ate grass and weeds to survive. Those who could afford to, left the country in search of a better life

Over the course of the famine almost one million people died from starvation or disease. Another one million left Ireland, mostly for Canada and America. Of those who left, many died on board the boats they were travelling in because the conditions were so crowded and dirty. For this reason, the ships that carried Irish immigrants to the New World became known as "coffin ships". Unfortunately immigrants to the New World soon found out that the blight was ravaging potato crops there as well.


-Salaman, Redcliffe Nathan. The History and Social Influence of the Potato. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1949.

-O'Grada, Cormac. 1989. The great Irish famine. MacMillan.

-Ross, Eric. 1986. Potatoes, population, and the Irish famine: the political economy of demographic change. IN Culture and reproduction. W.P. Handwerker, editor. Westview. Pp. 196-220.

Irish Potato Famine (click here)
Joined Oct 28, 1999
Thanks, Athenaeus (can we call you "A", for short?)!!
Thanks for the potato background. I guess I wasn't completely clear on exactly the type of Irish Potato for which I needed information. I am looking for background on the little, cream-cheese concocted confection that resembles a potato. Generally, it is a sweet made up of cream cheese, sugar & butter and rolled in cinnamon, to resemble a potato. They are abundant around St. Patrick's Day. I was just wondering about their origins. Obviously, there is a tie to the Potato Famine, but I was looking for more specifics. I have exhausted (I think) my web resources; I have scoured many food/Irish sites and I have come up fruitless.
Thanks again, "A" for the help... as always, you are TOO informative!! :)
Joined Dec 4, 2001
I'm not familiar with the confection you are talking about but I'd bet it is an American invention totally unrelated to the potato famine.
We tend to romanticize what was one of the more tragic events in Ireland's history. Like eating corned beef and cabbage on St Patrick's day. For centuries the vast majority of the Irish population were dsperately poor and in servitude to absentee landlords (mostly English.) A bit like sharecroppers.
To celebrate St Patrick's day, the family would buy the cheapest piece of meat and boil it to death with potatoes and cabbage to make it palatable. Nothing at all like the luxury of corned beef or these sweet things you speak of.
I'm sorry to be a downer but I get incensed when I am confronted with the Americanized version of what the Irish condition was. The reason so many came here is because conditions at home were unbearable.

Joined Apr 19, 2001
'Irish Potato Truffles' - this is from my mom from a long, long time ago (in a land far away!) I don't know about the history relating to the potato famine, tho - I think perhaps they were created as a clever way to celebrate St. Pat's.

1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut
3T heavy cream*
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Pulse coconut in processor til finely chopped (I get my coconut from an Indian grocery store, and it's already pretty fine). Transfer to a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients, and mix well. Roll into small balls, place on parchment lined sheet and let rest for about an hour at room temp - you don't have to refrigerate just yet.
*Sometimes I have to add a bit more cream; maybe if the coconut is old, it's drier. The mixture should hold together well, but still feel moist in your hand.

Make a mixture of: 2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
2T powdered sugar, sifted
1T cinnamon

Dredge each 'potato' in the mixture, shake off excess. Cover with plastic wrap and store in fridge.

In the South, 'Iish taters' refer to the baby white potatoes, or creamers. (This from my hubbie's family in NC).
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