The Daily Spud

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Category: Local Traditions (page 3 of 9)

Spud Sunday: From Famine To Feast

It was a mighty busy week last week and no mistake. Amongst the various goings on, yours truly featured in last Friday’s installment of Dublin City FM‘s Sodshow with Peter Donegan, to which you can listen back below (and, yes, the interview was recorded much earlier this year – at Sonairte‘s Potato Day – hence the springtime talk of potatoes chitting in my hallway).

Curiously enough, it was when I reemerged from the recording of said interview that I stumbled into what I later christened The Great Potato Standoff of 2013 – an incident which had everything to do with the feverish interest generated by the return of the Lumper potato last March. And, as I learned this week, those newly-resurrected Famine-era spuds are far from a flash in the pan…

Boiled Lumper potatoes

A feed of Lumpers

Back in March of this year, Marks & Spencer Ireland announced a limited three week run of Lumpers, grown for them by Michael McKillop of Glens of Antrim Potatoes. It signalled the first time that the Lumper potato – which had been the mainstay of the Irish peasant farmer in the pre-Famine era, and which had succumbed in such devastating fashion to the onslaught of blight in 1845 – had been grown in any kind of significant quantity in Ireland in around 170 years.

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Spud Sunday: 3rd World Spuds

We were chatting about potatoes in East Africa, as you do.

“They call them Irish,” said Shane, who was manning the reception desk in Dublin’s Irish Aid Voluteering & Information Centre. I had called in because the centre, in conjunction with Irish aid charity Vita, had been hosting a potato-themed photographic exhibition and related events around last month’s World Food Day.

Shane had spent a good deal of time in various East African countries where – most likely due to the presence of Irish missionaries and aid workers down through the years – “Irish” had become a synonym for potatoes (in much the same way that, when it arrived in Ireland first, the potato was often referred to as An Spáinneach – meaning the Spaniard – as it was they who had introduced the tuber to Europe). And while the potato is a largely non-traditional African crop, the vegetable which kept Irish populations fed for centuries – except, famously, when it didn’t, of course – is one which, it turns out, has a lot to offer countries in the African region.

True size of Africa map

Map showing the true size of Africa by Kai Krause. ‘Tis big alright.
(image in the public domain)

The potato is more efficient, more nutritious, and more profitable than any other staple crop… and is ideally suited to places where land is limited and labor abundant – conditions that characterize much of the developing world.

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Spud Sunday: Better Through Food

So, the Irish Blog Awards are over and done with for this year, and though I didn’t become the possessor of any new trophyware this weekend, I was mightily pleased to see the gong in my category, Best Blog of a Journalist, go to friend and fellow McKennas’ Guide editor, Caroline Hennessy of Bibliocookthe original Irish food blog and one of the longest running Irish blogs of any kind, while in the Food & Drink category, it was great to see Conor Bofin of One Man’s Meat get the nod this year.

IFWG logo

For me, though, there was an acknowledgement of a different kind this week, when I was invited to become a member of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild. For those not familiar with it, it’s an association of established food writers – think Myrtle, Darina and Rachel Allen for a start – they assess your writing and take a vote on whether or not you can join their gang; there may also be secret handshakes involved, I didn’t get that far yet.

In any case, I’m greatly honoured to have been asked to join – it feels a little bit like getting picked for the school team. And now, without further ado, may I present this week’s installment, which is late (again) but it is here, because that is what I do and I’m flattered by those who think I do it well.

People might say ah, it’s just food, it’s nothing – but really, what is better than this?

Better than what, exactly? You might suppose – given my well-documented predilection for all things potato – that I was referring, perhaps, to a crisp sandwich or a massive plate o’ spuds (and there are times, in my world at least, when both are hard to beat). The words, however, weren’t mine and the context was much broader.

Kamal Mouzawak at Glebe Gardens

Kamal Mouzawak, pictured at Glebe Gardens, West Cork (2011)

Kamal Mouzawak was describing his recent work with a group of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, which aims to establish a kitchen from which they can cook their traditional food. It may not sound like much – a kitchen, a few Syrian ladies cooking dinners as they might at have done at home – but, for that one group of people, it is making things better, and Kamal is all about making things better through the medium of food. “The most authentic and sincere expression of tradition, of history, is food,” he says. These refugees may have arrived with little else, but they carry their food culture with them and it is a fundamental way, not just of feeding themselves, but of connecting with others. Continue reading

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