Somehow or other we ended up talking about potatoes today at work, I think it was the off-shoot of a conversation on the "No White Diet" wherein the dieter does not eat any white foods at all - no white sugar, white flour, white milk, white potatoes, etc. That conversation led to the nutritious value of sweet potatoes versus white potatoes and the next thing I knew we were talking about the Great Irish Potato Famine of 1846 to 1850.
Liz, one of the schedulers, mentioned that she had recently seen a show on The History Channel about said Potato Famine and brought up the rather interesting, and previously unknown to me, fact that the average Irishman prior to the blight and famine consumed almost 18 pounds of potatoes a day. Hokey smokes, Bullwinkle - 18 pounds of potatoes a day?? Not necessarily doubting Liz but thinking she might have had potatoes in her own ears and not heard that correctly, I came home and ran a search on the subject myself. What I found was the following from the website DoChara.com, a website with all sorts of Irish information for travelers.
"By the early 19th century everyone ate potatoes, from rich to poor, and no meal was complete without them. For some this was almost all they ever ate. A report on the food given provided for inhabitants of workhouses in 1840 would have been an extreme, but not untypical, example of the diet of the poor."
Breakfast Dinner Supper Kilrush Men 4lbs potatoes, 1 pint skimmed milk. The same, with herrings instead of milk in Winter. Not always provided. Women 3 lbs potatoes, 1/2-1 pint skimmed milk The same. Scarriff Men 5lbs potatoes, 1 pint sour milk The same. Herrings when milk cannot be had. The same Women 3lbs potatoes, 1 pint milk The same The same
Okay, so Liz was only off by a few pounds as it appears that some men did eat up to 15 pounds of potatoes a day - Faith and begora but that's a lot of spuds! According to the website, "Many dishes looked on as being typically Irish - champ ( potatoes and scallions, or spring onions), colcannon (potatoes and cabbage), Irish Stew (the poorer cuts of meat with potato and vegetables), boxty (fried potato cakes) - were developed at this time in an effort to eke out the food available and, presumably, to relieve monotony."
Apparently if eaten in a proper quantity, they were considered quite nutritious but these days the poor white potato seems to have a cursed reputation. Dietitians everywhere decry them as "bad for you" and encourage you to eat their cousins, the sweet potato or yam, instead. That's all well, good, and fine if you happen to like sweet potatoes or yams but I don't - I like white potatoes - mashed, fried, scalloped, baked ... serve them up in style you like and I won't turn my nose up at them! There's something comforting in potatoes - especially mashed!
Amanda seems to have inherited my love of white potatoes as she was lamenting just this evening that I hadn't made nearly enough fried potatoes to go along with dinner. (I did notice that she managed to toss the fresh vegetables that I had cooked, though!) Despite the fact that I like to tout myself as an independent thinker, It seems that I am a product of our American culture and fear that too many potatoes aren't good for us so I try to only make a small amount for a side dish on occasion. And that's too bad because we both like potatoes and if an entire country subsided on them for years and years then they can't be all that bad! Can they??