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I researched “Irish potatoes” to see how early I could find the term in 18th century gardening treatises or cookery books after a fellow historian asked me how early I’d seen that exact term in print.  The following may offer some insight into the use of it.

The term Irish potato can more than likely be explained by erroneous assumptions as to its origins because after being grown in Ireland for a while and then being circulated through other areas, still very early, some failed to note that it had been taken to Ireland and was not native to Ireland. 

The Boston Cooking School Magazine said as much, “It is called Irish potato generally in the United States to distinguish it from the sweet potato, and because it has become the chief food staple in Ireland”.  That article went on to document the early acceptance of the potato in Germany and the recent discovery of an 8 foot tall monument in Germany which read, “Here in the year 1747 the first trials were made with the cultivation of the potato”.  – Vol. 14.  Oct. 1909.

From 1710, I located a summary of potatoes, including the “English or Irish” potato.  The Virginian potato, “grows wild not only in Virginia, but almost every where thro’ the whole Continent of Florida.  The English or, “Irish Potato which grows in roots are sold by bushels in our London Markets.”  – Salmon, William.  Botanologia.  1710. 

Salmon described sweet potatoes of various colors, and also the Irish.  Of the Virginia potato he said the root was nothing like the sweet potato in form, magnitude, color, nor taste, nor resembles in any thing but the solid compact uniform substance thereof.  The roots are small, some about the bigness of Wall-Nuts, green and all, some lesser by much, and others greater, some of them almost round, some oval, some a long round and almost pointed at each end, some smooth, others knobby, all of them being tuberous, of a dirty brown whitish color on the out side, and white within; not of a pleasant sweet taste, as the Spanish are, but rather of a flatulent, or insipid taste, which yet being boiled, baked, or roasted and eaten with butter, salt, vinegar, and a little sugar, are most admirable food, and not much inferior to those of the Spanish kind.”

He described the, “English or Irish Potato”, as roundish tuberous root sometimes smooth, some times knobby of various magnitudes from the smallness of a filbert, to bigger than a large fist doubled, it is solid, compact, and of one uniform substance, white within, and reddish without.”  They were boiled in their jackets, peeled, and boiled again until the broth was as thick as heavy cream.  Some put in milk, some broth.  “the broth is made pleasant with sweet Butter, a little salt, and double refined Sugar, and so eaten”. 

Ambrose Phillips compiled a collection of old ballads which was published in London in 1723.  In A Dialogue Between Morgan, Sawney, and Teague on the 19th of October, 1714, on the Eve of his Majesty’s Coronation, are found the words, “With Irish Potatoes, good Mustard and Honey, Which I’ll buy without e’er a Penny of Money”. 

“…in the same manner as solanum tuberosum, called Irish potatoes…” began a discourse by William Douglas.  [1755]  – Douglass, William.  A Summary, Historical and Political of the First Planting , Progressive Improvements, and Present State of the British Settlements in North-America.  1755.

Le Page du Pratz wrote of sweet potatoes in Lower Louisiana which he compared to, “Topinambous (Irish potatoes).”  – The History of Louisiana, Or the Western Parts of Virginia and Carolina.  1774.  London.

I remember, about twenty-five years ago, the large red potato, then called the Castonian…as also the oblong Spanish white potato, to be chiefly in use; but now a lesser sort, such as the Munster or kidney potato, of a whitish or lightish yellow colour, the leathercoat, or round red Cronian potato, with a rough thick skin and particularly that stiled [sic] the Spanish white potato, are mostly in use.  – The Royal Society of Arts.  Museum Rusticum.  1757.  London.

Continued……..See The French and Their Acceptance of the Potato©.

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