The potato, A.K.A. Irish potato, spud, white potato, tater.....
Growing up my father being of Irish decent would plant potatoes on St. Patrick's Day, the traditional planting date in Ireland
The potato originated and grew wild from the area of Peru and has been around for nearly 10,000 years. There are roughly 5000 cultivate varieties and 200 wild species. The Inca Indians were the first to cultivate these starchy tubers for agricultural purposes. They even developed a technique of dehydrating the potato for storing, which could then be eaten during leaner times. The word potato is derived from the Quechua (ancestors of the Inca's) "papa" and the Spanish word "batata".
The Spaniards were introduced to the potato in 1536 when they arrived in Peru. They used the tubers for food rations on returning ships and realized that the sailors who ate them did not suffer from scurvy (45% Vitamin C). Around 1570 they brought the potato back to Europe where it was first used to feed farm animals. The idea of growing and eating potatoes for human consumption slowly spread through Europe over the next 4 decades. Eventually the potato became the most important food group of the 19th century.
British explorer and historian Sir Walter Raleigh is credited to introducing the potato to Ireland in 1589. Many farmers began to grow this single crop (monoculture) for export. and as a staple in their diets replacing the turnip. However, the practice of mono-cropping, can lead to an increase in pest and a rapid spread of disease. Due to lack of crop rotation and diversity in the 1840's the famous potato famine hit Ireland. A blight caused by an airborne fungus (Phytophthora infestans), first started in the US in the early 1800's and spread to Europe. This late blight was responsible for catastrophic damages, both in the economy and in lives. It's estimated that over 2 million men, women and children died or emigrated from Ireland as a result of the famine. The long term results was the Ireland's population declined to about half by 1921.
The potato was introduced to the colonies in the 1600's, where it became known as the "Virginia Potato." It wasn't until 1719, when Scottish-Irish immigrants starting planting potatoes in New Hampshire, that it's popularity spread across the U.S. In 1872 the famous "Russet" Burbank variety was developed. Idaho's rich volcanic soil, warm days, and cool nights make it ideal growing conditions for potatoes.
The potato is the leading vegetable crop in the US, (with Idaho leaving the way) and the 5th largest food crop after sugar cane, corn, wheat, and rice. More then half of potatoes grown are used for French fries, chips and other potato products.
To pay homage to over the one million individuals who died in the famine between 1843-1852, it's tradition to make IRISH POTATO CANDY for St. Patrick's day. This candy resembles a tiny potato!