Pity the potato. It’s National Potato Day, yet our once budding superstar’s been trending downwards ever since huntergathers began dragging their knuckles to the dining table. A carb allergy has infected the nation leaving the humble potato about as popular as a water tax at a car wash. How did the potato turn from staple diet of the people to an episode of Man v Spud? It just wanted to be your spuddy buddy. Leave aside the fact that this vegetable can conjure up more pun potential than Buzzfeed can whip up kitten stories…
To understand what happened, we need to understand how this noble vegetable starved then conquered a nation. According to popular legend, it all started with another noble - Sir Walter Raleigh. Back then, a good chipper was just a twinkle in Leo Burdock’s eye. In a field in East Cork, Sir Walter declared “What’s up Youghal? Here’s some potatoes!” And the rest is (slightly made up) history. Once we’d a taste for it, our beloved tuber easily out-muscled other foods. Apparently the choice at the time was somewhat limited.
Other accounts say that the first spud washed up on the shores of Cork, like some glorious cuisine in a bottle from God, just after the Spanish Armada came a cropper. It has also been written that the potato’s introduction into England did not go well, taking flak in newspaper editorials and preachers’ sermons at the time. The man on the street wouldn’t touch it with yours, and rumour had it that potatoes would leave the soil as sterile as a mule convention. Oh, and they made you sick and could cause death. Even Mr Tayto couldn’t talk you into taking a trip to Tayto Park in those days.
That was then and this is now. Chippies have been ever popular in the best little country in the world. We love our spuds! But the downward spiral here began once Irish restaurants and avid cooks convinced diners to accept things like polenta and couscous. Polenta, a miserable lump which has the texture of damp sawdust, and tastes slightly worse, makes the starting lineup on many a menu. Couscous’ only useful contribution to society is perhaps in the debate over how exactly to pronounce it. Do you go with the lawdy daw Dublin 4 “Koous koous” or the more friendly cat-herding “Kus kus”.
Here kus kus…
In Jamie Oliver’s Italian, which does a fine burger, you have to plead your case to ensure your chippies are not doused in garlic, parsley and truffle oil. Whatever happened to the purity of the potato? No nonsense, just a bit of complex carbohydrate and a sprinkle of salt. Hipster eateries offer no respite. In Crackbird you won’t even find a chip on the menu - where’s the craic in that? And don’t start on about sweet potatoes. They’re the kind of thing you should only hear from Robin, pre-Dark Knight, excitedly muttering “Sweet potatoes, Batman!” as the Penguin makes off with the bag of chips that fell from his utility belt.
Official health guidelines are just as scathing. The “5 A Day” police won’t even count a Maris Piper towards your total, just a big fat potato-shaped zero. But it would be unwise to back against the tenacious potato making a comeback. The current crop of diets will ultimately fall out of flavour. Yes, technically on its own the potato will send your blood sugar levels into orbit with Richard Branson and his partying, unlimited-holiday time employees. But what your gym instructor didn’t tell you is that if you eat your Roosters with a side of meat, its GI drops quicker than Arjen Robben on an ice rink. So no your blood won’t turn to custard. Just sit back, relax, peel a spud and simply enjoy. Of course that doesn’t help us resist all those glorious damn potato flavoured puns that we could drop in here.
Must… not… mention… going viral on youtuber… It’s… Golden… Wonder… we… got.. this… far… Dammit!
Happy National Potato Day, Youghal!