Ah, St. Patrick’s Day. It took me a while to think of what my cupcakes were going to be this year for St. Patrick’s Day. I couldn’t think of anything to top my previous years exploits: Guinness stout cupcakes, Bailey’s Irish cream cupcakes, maple-Irish whiskey frosted cupcakes & green velvet cupcakes. But I really didn’t have any awesome cupcake ideas this year. I know- crazy right? I other awesome ideas, yes, but none for cupcakes. I tortured myself, I even experimented with some things that I didn’t like at all. And then… I decided to scrap the whole thing & just make some Irish potatoes.
No, not actual potatoes. They’re candy! Little candies made from coconut & cream cheese & rolled in cinnamon. Nope, they are not cupcakes. But you know what? Screw it! I always make cupcakes! This year I’m makin’ me some pertaters! Ireland & potatoes go together like peanut butter & jelly.
The potato was introduced to Ireland as a garden crop of the gentry. By the late 17th century, it had become widespread as a supplementary rather than a principal food, as the main diet still revolved around butter, milk, and grain products. In the first two decades of the 18th century, however, it became a base food of the poor, especially in winter. The expansion of the economy between 1760 and 1815 saw the potato make inroads in the diet of the people and became a staple food all the year round for farmers. The large dependency on this single crop was one of the reasons why the emergence of Phytophthora infestans had such devastating effects in Ireland, and had far less effects in other European countries (which were also hit by the fungus).
The potato’s spread was essential to the development of the cottier system, delivering an extremely cheap workforce, but at the cost of lower living standards. For the labourer, it was essentially a potato wage that shaped the expanding agrarian economy.
In 1844, Irish newspapers carried reports concerning a disease which for two years had attacked the potato crops in America. According to James Donnelly, a likely source was the eastern United States, where in 1843 and 1844 blight largely destroyed the potato crops. He suggests that ships from Baltimore, Philadelphia or New York could have brought diseased potatoes to European ports. W.C. Paddock suggests that it was transported on potatoes being carried to feed passengers on clipper ships sailing from America to Ireland.
Once it was introduced, it spread rapidly. By late summer and early autumn of 1845, it had spread throughout the greater part of northern and central Europe. Belgium, Holland, northern France and southern England by mid-August had all been stricken.
In Ireland, the Great Famine was a period of mass starvation, disease and emigration between 1845 and 1852. It is also known, mostly outside Ireland, as the Irish Potato Famine. In the Irish language it is called an Gorta Mór (IPA: [ənˠ ˈɡɔɾˠtˠə ˈmˠoːɾˠ], meaning “the Great Hunger”)[fn 1] or an Drochshaol ([ənˠ ˈdˠɾɔxˌhiːlˠ], meaning “the bad times”).
During the famine approximately 1 million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland, causing the island’s population to fall by between 20% and 25%. The proximate cause of famine was a potato disease commonly known as potato blight. Although blight ravaged potato crops throughout Europe during the 1840s, the impact and human cost in Ireland – where one-third of the population was entirely dependent on the potato for food – was exacerbated by a host of political, social and economic factors which remain the subject of historical debate.
The famine was a watershed in the history of Ireland. Its effects permanently changed the island’s demographic, political and cultural landscape. For both the native Irish and those in the resulting diaspora, the famine entered folk memory[fn 2] and became a rallying point for various nationalist movements as Ireland was then part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Modern historians regard it as a dividing line in the Irish historical narrative, referring to the preceding period of Irish history as “pre-Famine”.
The band Black 47 takes their name from the worst year of the famine, 1847. It was a very serious thing & there isn’t much to joke about. But the fact that Ireland bounced back (granted there were huge migrations to other countries as well) is a testament to their strength. Not to mention a reason to celebrate Ireland! It’s no surprise after reading that that potatoes & Ireland are so intertwined, though, is it?
My grandma always used to order them from an Irish gift company every St. Patrick’s Day. These are the ones she used to order; they’re O’Ryan’s. They’re so delicious, and unexpected. I searched around for recipes & I found one I liked at bakedbree.com. Most of the recipes are similar if not the same, so you can’t really go wrong. Really you can just mix some cream cheese, butter, coconut, vanilla & confectioner’s sugar until it’s the right consistency and go from there without a recipe if you want. They’re just like little truffles.
IRISH POTATOES (COURTESY OF BAKEDBREE.COM)
- ½ stick of butter softened
- ½ brick of cream cheese softened (4 oz.)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 cups confectioners sugar
- 2 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut
- 2 tablespoons cinnamon
- Beat together butter and cream cheese. Slowly add the confectioners sugar.
- Add the vanilla, then the coconut and mix until combined.
- You may want to chill the coconut mixture a little before you roll them. I like to use a small ice cream scoop. These are really rich, so you want them to be small.
- Roll the coconut mixture into a ball. Then roll the coconut mixture into the cinnamon and put on a parchment lined baking sheet. Keep the finished Irish Potatoes in the fridge.
And there you have it. Totally easy, totally fun and really yummy. Great to make with kids, too. Since they have to be kept in the fridge, I decided to put them in a jar for storage. Glass keeps out odor & moisture better than plastic, anyway. Plus it doesn’t impart nasty old flavors from previous things that have been stored in it. So I used a flip-top jar to keep my potatoes nice & cold. I really suggest you get some glass jars for storage if you don’t already have them. Way better for you than plastic.
On that note, enjoy, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
“Only two things in this world are too serious to be jested on, potatoes and matrimony.”