Eyeballing a real giant from fields of Ireland

One of the great sights of the countryside . . . a crop of potatoes coming into full flower.
One of the great sights of the countryside . . . a crop of potatoes coming into full flower.

Country Living with Francis Farragher

All of us can enjoy, or endure, bachelor days around the house with only the disobedient dog in the vicinity to provide anything by way of company, but such occasions can also present their problems in the shape of a bare table with no pleasant waft coming from the oven.

Anyway there I was last week with both myself and the dog in need of such nourishment when I eyeballed a giant rooster potato in a bag, whose size would have done justice to any self respecting turnip.

The oversized rooster, I surmised, should at least give me a decent portion of chips but it did a lot more than that with ample portions for both myself and canine, and at that moment the penny dropped as to what a wonderful and nutritious food source, our humble spuds are.

The potato is of course ingrained in our genes, going back to the time of the catastrophe of the Great Famine in the 1840s when the arrival of a blight epidemic led to over a million Irish people dying of starvation with about twice as many more emigrating, mainly to America, in one of the great population displacements of the 19th century.

It really is only in more recent times that the true nutritional value of the potato has been appreciated, packed with vitamins and minerals such as vitamins C and B6, thiamine, niacin, folacin, phosphorous and magnesium.

The spud is a truly spectacular reservoir of all things good in food, even if we are tempted at times to coat it with the finest of Irish butter and a pinch of salt too.

Those of us that had fathers born around the early 1900s, are but a couple of generations away, from that awful period of Irish history, so it is little wonder that we do tend to sit up and take notice when we hear of famine striking far-off lands and dip into our pockets. Many of us had grandparents that had early memories of the end of the famine times.

Somewhat ironically in those years of the mid-19th century in Ireland the ‘hungry months’ coincided with the summer time, when the previous year’s supply of potatoes had ran out, and the new crop was just at the growing stage.

June, July and August were often referred to as ‘the meal months’ when the farm families had to buy meal from the merchants or the despised ‘Gombeen Men’, who often operated a credit system with a penal interest regime.

Now while some of us view October as a slightly sullen month, heralding the arrival of Winter, in those times the tenth month of the year was a time of full bellies when the spuds were dug, feasted on and pitted for the months ahead.

The staple diet of the time was potatoes and some buttermilk too, the latter apparently filling the one deficiency in the potato diet, name the lack of vitamin A. So the spud, supplemented with milk or buttermilk, and some bread when meal was available, kept an entire family fed, and quite nutritiously too.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.