Shortly after we moved to Ireland I saw a poster on potatoes – you know the type, showing all of the different kinds of potatoes and their names. One commonly sees the equivalent poster with peppers or tomatoes but this was Ireland. I have always regretted not buying it but at the time I didn't think there was much to know about potatoes. Then I made a stew; a simple thing to make: meat, onions, carrots, potatoes and various seasonings. I have made lots of them. This time was different. When I took the lid off to serve…the potatoes were gone! Not just 'kind of broken up' but gone. The stew was lovely, thick and creamy but no sign of a potato. Apparently I had not purchased the right potato for stew; the ones I had were meant for soup….for shame! Now I faced the embarrassing prospect of always having to ask which potatoes were for what. I was always regarded with a bit of pity as they answered, it being obvious that I had been raised in a cave by wolves.
The importance of the potato was driven home the first time we went to dinner at our local restaurant. We lived in Monkstown, County Cork and had the good fortune to be 2 doors down from the Bosun. The first time we ate there our main course, lamb chops, was artfully arranged on the plate with some green vegetables. We were somewhat surprised about the lack of potato or rice or something, but we adjust. A few moments later a young lady comes to our table. with a tray that must have weighed as much as she did, balanced on one arm. Our faith is restored: the potatoes had arrived! "Madame" she said, "We have au gratin, boiled with butter, jacket (baked for the Americans), fried with onion, chips (French Fries to the Yanks) and cooked in cream." I said "the au gratin, please". She served me and continued to look at me, finally saying "and what else, ma'am?" "A few of the boiled, please." She served and continued to stare. I finally explained that I had been ill and didn't have much of an appetite. That seemed to satisfy her and she moved on to mon mari. He obligingly took 3 out of the 6, right off. That was better but she still moved off a little bewildered. She was determined to see us properly fed, however, and came back twice more.
After that we were always prepared to eat a few more potatoes than normal and they finally learned to accept our 'Yank' ways – figured we were on a diet or some such. Here's to the mighty potato!
Originally on Thyme for Cooking Home Page