FIELDS OF GREEN
With the week that is in it there is one food that is synonymous with Ireland and that is our humble spud. St. Patrick would surely have given them his blessing but he missed the potato boat. It is thanks to the Spanish much later for bringing them back to Europe from South America, the English for then planting them here in Ireland, but crucially the French for fully realising their culinary potential when it was mostly used for feeding pigs initially. The potato was not so revered when it first landed in Europe but once the masses realised how easy it was to grow and nutritious it was to eat, it became widespread.
For two centuries afterwards then the spud became so important it virtually fed all of Europe, but it was still not so popular in England. The word spud itself is said to have come from this dislike of it by them in the 19th century. An actual “society for the prevention of an unwholesome diet” there campaigned to banish the potato altogether as it was believed it caused all sorts of ailments. Hence the name of this society gave the acronym that denotes the word SPUD.
Now it’s global with an infinity of sizes, colours and flavours and it’s loved everywhere. We have celebration days in its honour and Irish emigrants around the world receive boxes of Tayto crisps in the post, if ever there was a taste of home, up there with brown bread and Guinness. It was also the downfall for our national tragedy, the great 19th century famine, when blight killed off successive harvests when we had mistakenly become fully dependant on it. The Irish were eating five kilos of them a day back then, a variety called lumper that was very susceptible to disease as bad luck would have it.
Today it still gets a bad press as one of the big bad carb foods that will pile on the weight and contribute to the obesity epidemic. The problem is not potatoes per se but how much we eat of them. We have pasta and rice to give us more carb choice on the plate, the fact is we just need to watch our portions on all food. The truth of the matter is that the potato is a wonder food and we need to keep it. Of course we exercise much less so all that energy and goodness from spuds will not get used up any more, so naturally it will contribute to our weight gain.
So what is so nutritious about the spud? Well it’s full of vitamins and minerals; its high potassium count helps muscles, your nervous system and blood pressure. It has proteins and fibre, both types and is great for gut health. It is also an anti oxidant and gives energy straight to the brain as well as the body and is still low in calories with virtually no fat
. It’s best eaten with the skin still on for maximum goodness. Spuds also keep you full for longer so no wonder the hard working Irish took it to their hearts and tummies. Cooking wise, well it’s truly versatile and everyone has their favourites be it boiled, baked, fried, mashed or just cold in a salad with mayonnaise.
There is such a choice and that’s before you get into all the fancy French gratins and croquettes. Then we have our own national potato dishes of boxty and colcannon., Whichever way you like them, do not give up on the old spud. It really is part of our Irish DNA too.
Some foods become permanently associated with a country and for Ireland it is the spud and especially the poor old Murphy family whatever they did to deserve the nickname. So if you have been cutting them out of your diet, stop it right now, get them into the pot or oven. You do not need to eat a tonne of them, one or two is fine and we have superb varieties like golden wonders, roosters, queens, maris pipers and kerr pinks to name a few. All simply delicious.