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The Potato in the History of European Agriculture and Cuisine

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Kim, Nuri
Term Paper, AP World History Class, June 2011

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Chronology of the Potato
III. Background
III.1 First Cultivation
III.2 Spain
IV. The Settlement of the Potato in Europe
IV.1 Settlement
IV.2 Rumors and Bias
V. The Prominence of Potatoes Starting from 1780
V.1 Ireland
V.2 France
V.3 Britain
VI. Population boom
VI.1 Background
VI.2 Ireland
VI.3 France
VI.4 Britain
VII. Potato Famine in 1845
VII.1 Introduction
VII.2 Early Government Actions
VII.2.1 The Corn Law
VII.2.2 Laissez-Faire
VII.3 The Great Hunger
VII.4 Food Exports to England
VII.5 Alternatives and the Enhancing of the Great Hunger
VII.6 The Irish Poor Law Extension Act
VII.7 The Aftermath
VII.7.1 Emigration
VIII. Potatoes in the History of European Cuisine
VIII.1 The Influence of Potatoes in Cuisine
VIII.2 Potatoes in the History of European Cuisine
VIII.2.1 Ireland
VIII.2.2 Britain
VIII.2.3 France
IX. Conclusion
X. Notes
XI. Bibliography

I. Introduction

            "If beef's the king of meat, potato's the queen of the garden world" (1). The following quote is from an Irish Saying. Potatoes, nowadays known to be the primary staple food in the world, was once merely a plant that that was known to be poisonous and sinister. What had caused this evil plant to turn into such an extensive food around the world? What had developed this bland crop into such a delicacy? This paper will focus on the history of potatoes, and how the potato developed into a delicacy as it gained prominence.

II. Chronology of the Potato

            The chronology of the potato will be stated below in year periods.

8000 BC - Aymara Indians of Peru and Bolivia harvest early forms of potato tubers
2500 BC - Aymara Indians of the Titicaca Plateau, Peru and Bolivia, cultivate 200 varieties of potato
1570 AD - Spanish ships are provisioned with potatoes for the long voyage home, some make it to Spain
1573 AD - Potatoes are bought for consumption at La Sangre Hospital, Seville, Spain
1587 AD - The potato is brought into Germany from Italy (1585)
1570s-80s AD - Potatoes from Spain are grown in Europe, but still a short-day plant of the tropics, they perform poorly
1590 AD - The potato is introduced into England
1621 AD - Potatoes are planted in Germany
1635 AD - Slave-trader John Hawkins introduces the potato into Ireland, but its culture is soon abandoned
1663 AD - Potatoes are established as a field crop in Ireland
1680 AD - Belgian ¡®frites¡¯ originate when the Meuse freezes; potatoes are frozen, fried, and eaten in lieu of fish
1712 AD - Tithe on potato crop at Isle of Mann is set, but clergy does not enforce as potatoes were poor people's food
1729 AD - Potatoes are cultivated in Switzerland
1740 AD - Ireland is stuck by a major famine, the 'first potato crisis'; 500,000 people die
1743 AD - Frederick II of Prussia forces peasants to plant potatoes
1756-63 AD - A.A. Parmentier is POW 5 times during Seven Years War; each time is fed potatoes three times per day
1768 - A dry, mealy potato good for boiling, called The Apple, syn. The Irish Apple, is introduced in Ireland
1778-79 AD - Soldiers forage Moravia potato fields, War of the Bavarian Succession, a.k.a. 'potato war' (Kartoffelkrieg)
1785 AD - Antoine-Augustin Parmentier plants two hectares potatoes in France and posts guards around the fields
1785 AD - A.A. Parmentier and Louis XVI create feast of only potato dishes; B. Franklin reputedly is in attendance
1800-01 AD - Local crop failures in Ireland cause general famine; typhus epidemic strikes
1816-1817 - Famine years where harvests worldwide were affected by the eruption of Mt. Tambora (Dutch East Indies) of 1815
1816-17 AD - Irish potato crop fails; typhus epidemic strikes
1820 AD - Street vendors, "the baked 'tato men,'" begin selling hot baked potatoes in London
1821-22 AD - Irish potato crop fails
1830s AD - Deep fried potatoes become increasingly popular in France and Belgium119
1835 AD - Charles Darwin describes a variety of potato he saw on the archipelago of Chiloe off S. coast of Chile
1840s AD - 'French fried' potatoes (pommes frites) appear in Paris, France and begin to achieve popularity
1845 AD - Late blight appears in Belgium (Jun), Late blight spreads to northwestern Europe and southern England (Aug), Late blight, Phytophthora infestans, destroys 40% of the potato crop in Ireland
1846 AD - Late blight, Phytophthora infestans, destroys potato crop in Ireland
1847 AD - Potato production in Seneca County is 100 bushels/acre, down 60% from 1845, due to late blight
1848 AD - Late blight, Phytophthora infestans, destroys potato crop in Ireland
1850s AD - Potato prices in Europe are 50 to 100% higher than earlier in the decade
1851 AD - Over 300 street vendors in London sell 10 tons of hot baked potatoes a day, some as hand warmers
1874 AD - A severe frost destroys the potato crop at Ladbergen, Germany
1885 AD - Vincent van Gogh paints The Potato Eaters, what some consider his first great work
1916-1917 AD - World War 1, Germany under British blockade, agricultural production 30% of prewar level (1.2)
1916-17 AD - Late blight strikes potato crop in Germany; 700,000 citizens starve to death during winter (2)

III. Background

III.1 First Cultivation

            The potato originated and domesticated in the Andean Mountains of southern Peru, South America.(3) The potato was cultivated near Titicaca Lack, on the border between Peru and Bolivia, where the greatest diversity of wild species can be found. The potatoes provided the principal energy source for the Inca Empire and its predecessors. The influence of potatoes extended throughout the Incan culture, such as using the potatoes to measure time by correlating units of time with how long it took potatoes to grow.(4) Incas not only used the potatoes as fold remedies, such as placing them on broken bones, carrying them to prevent rheumatism, and eating them with other foods to prevent indigestion, but in religious aspects also. The Incas worshipped the potatoes; they buried them with the dead. The following quote is and Inco prayer used to worship potatoes.
            "O Creator! Thou who givest life to all things and hast made men that they may live, and multiply. Multiply also the fruits of the earth, the potatoes and other food that thou hast made, that men may not suffer from hunger and misery." (5)
            The image shown on the left is a picture of a Peruvian potato god. He can be seen holding a potato plant in each hand. The eyes of the potatoes can be seen on each plant.(6)
            The Incans also had a great usage of the preservation of the potatoes. They were the innovators of the freeze-dried potato called chuno, which can be stored for 4 years, which were excellent insurance against possible crop failures, and they stashed potatoes in concealed bins for use in case of war or famine, and carried them on long journeys to eat on the way. The Incas called the potato "papas¡±, which still goes by that name throughout Latin America. (7)

Image 1 : Peruvian Potato God

III.2 Spain

            The Spanish conquistador first encountered the potato when they arrived in Peru in 1532 in search of gold. They discovered the potato in 1537, and took it with them on their return trip to Europe. Early Spanish chroniclers noted the importance of the tuber to the Incan Empire.(8) In 1540, Pedro de Cieza (1518-1560), a Spanish Conquistador and historian wrote,
            "In the vicinities of Quito the inhabitants have with to the maize an other plant that serves to support in great part their existence: the potatoes, that they are of the roots similar to the tubercoli, supplies of one rind more or little hard; when they come bubbled they become to hold like the cooked chestnuts; seccate to the sun call to them chuno and they are conserved for the use." (9)
            At the time the Spanished failed to realize that the potato was far more important than either silver or gold, but they gradually began to use potatoes as basic rations aboard their ships.(10) Sailor returning from Peru to Spain with gold brought maize and potatoes for their own food on the trip. In 1565, Gonzalo Jiminez de Quesada (Spanish explorer and conqueror) took the potato to Spain instead of the gold he did not find.(11) Thinking they were a kind of a truffle, the Spanish called the potatoes "tartuffo." And as time passed, Potatoes became a standard supply item on the Spanish ships. Sailors noticed that the people who ate potatoes didn't suffer from scurvy (disease resulting from lack of Vitamin C.)
            Historians speculate that leftover tubers and maize were carried ashore and planted. At the time the Spaniards failed to realize that the potato represented a far more important treasure than either silver or gold, but they did gradually begin to use potatoes as basic rations aboard their ships.
            After potatoes have first been introduced to Spain in 1570, a few Spanish farmers began to cultivate them on a small scale, usually as food for livestock. (12) In 1597, John Gerard, a British author, gardener, and collector of rare plants, successfully grew potatoes in his own garden after he received roots from Virginia. In this book The Herball, the following is written about the potato:
            "Potatoes of the Virginia. The potato of the Virginia has many coppers flexible cables and that crawl for earth... The root is thick, large and tuberosa; not much various one for shape, color and sapore from common potatoes (the sweet potatoes) but a smaller Po; some are round as spheres, other ovals; the some longer other shortest ones... It grows spontaneously in America where, as Clusius has reported, it has been discovered; from then I have received these roots from the Virginia otherwise Norembega calls; they grow and they prosper in my garden like in their country of origin... Its correct name is cited in the title it. Poiche it possesses not only the shape and the proportions of potatoes, but also their gradevole sapore and virtue we can call them potatoes of the America or Virginia." (13)

IV. The Settlement of the Potato in Europe

IV.1 Settlement

            "We think that the potato arrived some years before the end of the 16th century, by two different ports of entry: the first, logically, in Spain around 1570, and the second via the British isles between 1588 and 1593 ... we find traces of the transport of potatoes travelling from the Canaries to Antwerp in 1567 ... we can say that the potato was introduced there [the Canary islands] from South America around 1562 ... the first written mention of the potato [is] ... a receipt for delivery dated 28 November 1567 between Las Palmas in the Grand Canaries and Antwerp." (14)
            The Spanish had an empire across Europe, and brought potatoes for their armies. Peasants along the way adopted the crop, which was less often robbed than grain by armies. (15) At first, the potato was considered food for the under-classes; when they brought potatoes to the Old World, it was used primarily to feed hospital inmates. It took three decades for the potato to spread to the rest of Europe, first cultivated primarily as a curiosity by amateur botanists.

Image 2 : Vincent van Gogh's 'The Potato-Eaters'

            The picture on the top depicts a social class that could be defined by its eating habits; Vincent van Gogh's 'The Potato-Eaters'((16)
            Most of northern Europe had open fields yet Potatoes were strictly confined to small gardens. This was because field agriculture was strictly governed by custom of seasonal rhythm of plowing, sowing, harvesting and grazing animals. The rules also allowed only grain to be planted in the open fields. (17) It was only after 1750 when government officials and noble landowners in France and Germany promoted the rapid conversion of fallow land into potato fields when the potato became a prominent staple crop in Northern Europe. Famines in the early 1770s also contributed to the potato's acceptance for traditional crops did not produce as stably due to the climate change during the Little Ice Age. Potatoes turned out to be a reliable food source at times when most other crops failed.

IV.2 Rumors and Bias

            During the late 1500s, the potato slowly spread from Spain to Italy and other European countries. By 1600; the potato had entered Spain, Italy (1585), England (1585), Germany (1587), Belgium (1587), Austria (1588), Holland, France (1600), Switzerland, Portugal and Ireland, but no country was welcoming. Wherever the potato was introduced, they were considered poisonous, evil, and with suspicion. (18)
            Generally considered to be unfit for human consumption, the potato was used either as sustenance for the starving or food for livestock. (19) In Italy and France, the potato was accused of causing many diseases such as leprosy, syphilis, narcosis, scronfula, early death, sterillity, and rampant sexuality. It was also thought to destroy the soil where it grew. There was so much opposition to the potato that an edict was made in the town of Besancon, France stating: "In view of the fact that the potato is a pernicious substance whose use can cause leprosy, it is hereby forbidden, under pain of fine, to cultivate it." (20)
            In northern Europe, potatoes were primarily grown in botanical gardens as an exotic novelty. Even peasants refused to eat a plant that produced misshaped tubers and that had come from a "heathen civilization". Some thought of the potato's resemblance to plants in the nightshade family hinted as the creation of witches or devils. (21)
            In 1589, Sir Walter Raleigh, a British explorer and historian known for his expeditions to the Americas, first brought the potato to Ireland. He planted them at his Irish estate at Myrtle Grove, Youghal, near Cork, Ireland.(22)Legends say that he gave the potato as a gift to Queen Elizabeth I, who invited the local gentry to a royal banquet featuring the potato in every course. Unfortunately, the cooks had never cooked potatoes before thus presented the poisonous stems and leaves instead of the lumpy looking potatoes. This made everyone deathly ill, and the potatoes were then banned from court. (23)

V. The Prominence of Potatoes Starting from mid 1700s

            In most of Europe, it was the upper class that saw the potato¡¯s potential before the suspicious lower class and encouraged its growth. (24)

V.1 Ireland

            In Ireland, the expansion of potato cultivation was due to the landless laborers, who rented tiny plots from landowners, only interested in raising cattle or in producing grain for market. (25) Though it was a monotones diet, a single acre of potatoes and the milk of a single cow was enough to feed a nutritious meal for a whole Irish family and proved to be an adequate diet for a healthy, vigorous, and desperately poor rural population. Often even poor families grew enough extra potatoes to feed a pig.
            Ireland was different from England and the rest of Europe. The potato was a field crop in the 1600s (it was first grown in Wicklow), and by the 1700s it became a staple diet, eaten by both the rich and poor. Though the main food was oats, potatoes made a good backup, especially in poor grain years. The humid and warm climate was also a factor that made suitable growth for potatoes. Before 1845, the main European potato disease was Curl (it stopped potatoes from growing in size and decreased yields up to 75%), however, Ireland remained mainly untouched. (26)
            The style of meals adopted in Ireland was another reason that potatoes became popular. The typical peasant cabin in Ireland was relatively small, not a suitable place for complex cooking. However, a meal of potatoes only needed doffing, washing and boiling or roasting. Peeling took place at the dinner table. Thus potato meals could be prepared by anyone regardless of their cooking skill.
            While traveling through Ireland from 1809 to 1811, Edward Wakefield, a British politician, notes that each member of a potato-consuming family ate about 4 pounds each day. This figure included young children who did not eat as much. (27)

V.2 France

Image 3 : Antoine Parmentier holding New World Plants (1812) - Francois Dumont (28)

            "'It spread greatly there in the middle of the 17th century ... Some authors also remark its introduction from England into Flanders during the wars against Louis XIV ... In the 18th century ... Some instructions to cultivators spread by the Agricultural Bureaus contribute to the potato's development ... To such a point that in the 1785 edition of the 'Bon Jardinier' it is written: 'There is no vegetable about which so much has been written and so much enthusiasm has been shown ... The poor should be quite content with this foodstuff' ... in 1758 in Saint-Die(Vosges) a production of about 2,000 tons was realized." (29)
            The potato was the only crop remaining after solders plundered wheat fields and vineyards thus slowly gained ground in France. However, it did not gain widespread acceptance till the late 1700s. Though Facult de Paris testified in 1771 that the potato was in fact beneficial not harmful, peasants remained suspicious.
            Frenchman Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was a botanist, apprentice pharmacist and military chemist during the Seven Years War between France and Germany (at that time a Prussian prisoner of war) during the mid- 1700s. (30) According to historical account, during the Seven Years¡¯ War Parmentier was taken prisoner five times and was forced to survive on a diet of potatoes. In later years after the war Parmentier introduced potato soup and other potato dishes to King Louis XIV (King of France), Marie Antoinette (Queen of France), and Benjamin Franklin as well as the general population. (31) In 1771, he won a contest sponsored by the Academy of Besançon to find a food "capable of reducing the calamities of famine" with his study of the potato called Chemical Examination of the Potato. Many French potato dishes now bear his name today.
            In 1785, Parmentier persuaded Louis XVI to encourage the cultivation of potatoes and gained consent by being offered to plant 100 potatoes in useless acres outside Paris. This potato farm was kept heavily guarded, arousing public curiosity as the people thought anything being so carefully guarded must be valuable. One night Parmentier allowed the guards to go off duty, and as Parmentier expected, the local farmers confiscated the potatoes and planted them on their own farms. From this small start, the habit of growing and eating potatoes spread. It is also said that Marie Antoinette often pinned potato flowers in her curls. Because of her, ladies of the era wore potato blossoms in their hair. (32)
            People began to overcome their disapproval of the potato as it received the royal seal of approval: Louis XVI and his court eagerly promoted the new crop, Louis XVI began to wear a potato flower in his buttonhole, and Queen Marie-Antoinette wore the purple potato blossom as a headdress in her hair at a fancy dress ball. The annual potato crop of France soared to 21 million hectoliters in 1815 and 117 millions in 1840, allowing a concomitant growth in population. (33)

V.3 Britain

            Adventurers associated with Drake and Raleigh introduced potatoes to Britain in 1586. The herbalist, Gerard was growing potatoes in London by 1597. The potato stayed in the hands of academic botanists and herbalists for many years. Huge changes in land tenure all over Europe in the 18th Century led to the displacement of a large number of people. They needed a food which was cheap, nutritious, easy to grow and which would crop well enough on the small pieces of land available to rent. (34) Industrialization, which led to the development of towns, also led to pressures to develop cheaper, non grain foods which could be easily stored, easily transported, did not need expensive processing and could be cooked quickly and cheaply.
            The N.W. of England was the first part of mainland Britain to try potatoes. Scots were relatively slow to embrace them but, when they did, a culture of variety breeding quickly developed.
            Known for their meat-loving nature, farmers and urban workers in England regarded potatoes with extreme distaste. Though the Royal Society recommended the cultivation of potatoes to the English government in 1662, it had little impact. It was only after Britain faced food shortages during the Revolutionary Wars (American Revolutionary War, French Revolution) did potatoes become a staple food. This is when the English government officially began to encourage potato cultivation. For example, in 1795, the Board of Agriculture issued a pamphlet entitled "Hints Respecting the Culture and Use of Potatoes" and this was soon followed by pro-potato editorials and potato recipes in The Times. Gradually, the lower classes began to follow the lead of the upper classes. By the end of the 18th Century potatoes were grown fairly universally in fields, gardens and allotments. A common name for an allotment was "potato plot". In Britain and much of the remainder of Europe the start of the modern industrial age can be marked by the point in time when the potato became the mainstay of main course cooking. (35)
            In the 19th century, the potato promoted economic development by underpinning the Industrial Revolution. For urban workers who had small backyard plots, the potato served as cheap, available source of calories and nutrients. (36) Potatoes also served a boom for workers in factories of northern England where coal was readily available. Marxist Friedrich Engels even declared the potato's "historically revolutionary" role. (37)

VI. The Potato Population Boom

VI.1 Background

            Potatoes yielded from two to four times more calories per acre than grain did, and eventually came to dominate the food supply in Eastern Europe. Boiled or baked potatoes were cheaper than rye bread but just as nutritious, and required more simple procedures for consumption.
            When the European diet expanded to include potatoes, farmers had two great benefits: one, they were able to produce much more food, two, they gained protection against the catastrophe of a grain crop failure and population decrease caused by famine. (Grain and potatoes coexisted because grain was much easier to ship, store and sell for the landlords.) Potatoes proved themselves to be highly nutritious by lessening the effects of such diseases as scurvy, tuberculosis, measles and dysentery. This led to lower mortality rates and higher birth rates, which led to a tremendous population explosion particularly in Europe, the US and the British Empire. (38)

VI.2 Ireland

Image 4 : Map Showing the Density of Potato cultivation in Europe in the early 20th century (39)

            The potato became a staple food in Ireland by the 19th century. The population change in Ireland portrays the most dramatic example of the potato's potential to alter population patterns occurred in Ireland. The Irish population doubled to eight million between 1780 and 1841 without any significant expansion of industry or reform of agricultural techniques beyond the widespread cultivation of the potato. The potato's high yields allowed even the poorest farmers to produce more food than they needed with scarcely any investment or hard labor despite the fact that Irish landholding practices were primitive compared to those of England. Even children could easily plant, harvest and prepare potatoes. The abundance provided by potatoes greatly decreased infant mortality and encouraged early marriage. Accounts of Irish society recorded potatoes as "remarkable for their health as for their lack of sophistication at the dinner table, where potatoes typically supplied appetizer, dinner and dessert." (40)

VI.3 France

            The benefits of the potato were obvious wherever it was adopted. In France, the potato assimilated itself into the French diet in the form of soups, boiled potatoes and pommes-frites. The sudden shift toward potato cultivation in the early years of the French Revolution allowed France, which was traditionally on the verge of starvation in times of stability and peace to expand its population during long periods of constant political upheaval and war. The uncertainly of food supply during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, combined with the destroyed above-ground crops by soldiers encouraged France's allies and enemies to embrace the potato as well; by the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the potato had become a staple food in the diets of most Europeans. (41)

VI.4 Britain

            The potato enjoyed popularity among farmers and urban workers in England and Wales, were industrial-era was developing. The Industrial Revolution drew and ever increasing population in crowded cities, where people worked for 12-16 hours a day, which made them lack the time and energy to prepare food. Highly yielding and easily prepared potato dishes were the ideal solution for England¡¯s food problems. The English rapidly acquired a taste for potatoes, which will be shown throughout the last chapter by examples of European cuisine. Hot potato vendors and merchants selling fish and chips wrapped in paper became ubiquitous features of city life. From 1801 to 1851, the population of England and Wales doubled to almost 18 million, experiencing an unexpected population explosion. (42)

VII. Potato Famine in 1845

VII.1 Introduction

            "Beginning in 1845 and lasting for six years, the potato famine killed over a million men, women and children in Ireland and caused another million to flee the country." (43)
            The Famine began quite mysteriously in September 1845 as a result of a fog that had drifted across the fields of Ireland. The cause was an airborne fungus called phytophthora infestans, originally transported in the holds of ships traveling from North America to England. Winds from southern England carried the fungus and it spread throughout the fields.

VII.2 Early Government Actions

VII.2.1 The Corn Law

            By October 1845, potato the blight had reached London. With the devastating starvation going on, a new law was made by British Prime Minister Robert Peel; The Corn Law. This law was enacted in 1815 to artificially keep the price of British-grown grain up, by imposing heavy taxation on all imported grain. Under the Corn Law, the cheap grain needed for Ireland would be extremely expensive. English politicians reacted with outrage at the prospect of losing their price protections, and the political furor in Britain quickly overshadowed any concern for the consequences of the crop failure in Ireland. (44)
            Ireland's potato crop failures in the past had always been regional, short, and of low loss of lives. However, between 1800 and 1845, sixteen food shortages had occurred in various parts of Ireland, affecting the entire country at once and for the first time. Believing the 1845 food shortage to be the last, British officials reacted to the current food shortage by enacting temporary relief measures.
            In Dublin, a Relief Commission was established to set up local relief committees throughout Ireland. Composed of landowners, their agents, magistrates, clergy and notable residents, the local committees helped organize employment projects, distribute food to the poor, and raise money from landowners to cover part of the cost. The British government then contributed a matching amount. In remote rural areas, however, committees failed to donate for they were taken over by. (45)

VII.2.2 Laissez-Faire

            British government officials and administrators rigidly adhered to the popular theory of the day in deciding their course of action during the Famine: laissez-faire, which advocated a hands-off policy in the belief that all problems would eventually be solved on their own through "natural means."
            Thus great efforts were made to avoid social problems and any interference with private enterprise including the rights of property owners. The British government never provided food aid to Ireland throughout the entire Famine period, in belief that English landowners and private businesses would be unfairly influenced by resulting food price fluctuations.
            The British government also did not interfere with the English controlled export business in Irish grains. Though local Irish were dying of starvation, large quantities of native-grown wheat, barley, oats and oatmeal sailed out of places such as Limerick and Waterford for England. Desperate for cash, Irish farmers routinely sold grain to the British in order to pay the rent on their farms and thus avoid eviction. (46)
            In the first year of the Famine, deaths from starvation were low thanks to the imports of Indian corn and survival of about half of the original potato crops. The Irish survived the first year by selling their livestock and meager possessions to buy food. Some borrowed money at high interest from gombeen men (petty money-lenders), falling behind on their rents.
            Because the potato crop in Ireland had never failed for two years consecutively, many were counting on the next harvest to be blight-free. However, the blight continued for the following four years with catastrophic consequences for Ireland. (47)

VII.3 The Great Hunger

Image 5 : Skibbereen (1847) by James Mahoney (48)

            Though the people of Ireland had high hopes for a good potato harvest throughout the summer of 1846, the cool moist summer weather further spread the blight. Farmers had no choice but to use diseased potatoes from the previous harvest as planters. At first, the crop appeared to be healthy, but by harvest time the blight struck ferociously, spreading fifty miles per week across the countryside, destroying nearly every potato in Ireland. (49)
            A Catholic priest named Father Matthew wrote to Trevelyan, an English civil servant "In many places the wretched people were seated on the fences of their decaying gardens, wringing their hands and wailing bitterly the destruction that had left them foodless." (50)
            There were only enough potatoes to feed the Irish population for a single month and panic swept the country. By September, starvation struck in the west and southwest. In these regions, people had been entirely dependent on the potato. As a response, British Coastguard Inspector-General, Sir James Dombrain, ordered his subordinates to give free food handouts. However, Dombrain was publicly rebuked by Trevelyan who informed that "the proper procedure would have been to encourage the Irish to form a local relief committee so that Irish funds could have been raised to provide the food."
            "There was no one within many miles who could have contributed one shilling...The people were actually dying," Dombrain responded. (51)

VII.4 Food Exports to England

            The majority of the rural Irish preferred to live by the old barter system, which is trading goods and labor for whatever they needed. In 1846 throughout all of Europe, food supplies were very limited, which severely reduced imports into England and Ireland. European countries such as France and Belgium sought food from the Mediterranean and even for Indian corn from America.
            Irish lands exported food even during the worst years of the Famine. During 1782-1783, ports were closed to keep Irish-grown food in Ireland to feed the Irish. However, no such export ban happened in the 1840s, and the Irish watched with increasing anger as boatloads of home-grown oats and grain departed to England. In Youghal port near Cork, food riots erupted; peasants tried unsuccessfully to confiscate a boatload of oats. At Dungarvan in County Waterford, British troops were pelted with stones and fired 26 shots into the crowd, killing two peasants and wounding several others. (52)
            The following poem written by British Prime Minister, a well known and popular author, was carried in The Nation

Weary men, what reap ye? Golden corn for the stranger.
What sow ye? Human corpses that wait for the avenger.
Fainting forms, Hunger?stricken, what see you in the offing
Stately ships to bear our food away, amid the stranger's scoffing.
There's a proud array of soldiers?what do they round your door?
They guard our master's granaries from the thin hands of the poor.
Pale mothers, wherefore weeping? 'Would to God that we were dead?
Our children swoon before us, and we cannot give them bread.

Speranza (53)
VII.5 Alternatives and the Enhancing of the Great Hunger

            The Irish in the countryside began to seek for alternative food source and began to live on wild blackberries, nettles, turnips, old cabbage leaves, edible seaweed, shellfish, roots, roadside weeds and even green grass. They sold their livestock and pawned their meager owns to pay the rent to avoid eviction. It was only then with leftover money could the Irish buy food. To make matters worse, food prices kept on increasing.
            Though seemingly plentiful along the West Coast of Ireland even fish remained out of reach for the water was too deep and dangerous for currachs (little cowhide-covered Irish fishing boats). Starving fishermen also pawned their nets and ship belongings to buy food for their families.
            Making matters worse, the winter of 1846-1847 was extremely severe with blizzards continuously blowing. Though the Irish climate was normally mild and entire winters often pass without snow, the winder of 1846-1847 faced an abrupt change as the winds from southwest into the northeast brought bitter cold snow, sleet and hail. (54)

VII.6 The Irish Poor Law Extension Act

Image 6 : Irish Potato Famine (1849) by Bridget O'Donnel (55)

            Many British politicians and officials, including Charles Trevelyan, blamed Ireland's chronic misery on landlords' failure to manage estates efficiently and irresponsible leadership. Parliament thus enacted the Irish Poor Law Extension Act, a measure that became law on June 8, 1847. This dumped the entire cost and responsibility of Famine relief directly upon Ireland's property owners. (56)
            "The principle of the Poor Law," Trevelyan declared, "is that rate after rate should be levied, for the purpose of preserving life, until the landlord and the farmer either enable the people to support themselves by honest industry, or dispose of their estates to those who can perform this indispensable duty." (57)
            The new Poor Law made landlords responsible for the taxes on their estates that were occupied by peasant families and small farmers. Moreover, the British government, in strict adherence to the new Poor Law, did not help unions that failed to raise necessary taxes for food purchases. As people began to starve on a larger scale in western Ireland, anger and resentment grew, leading to an intense hatred for British authority, unrest and anti-landlord violence. Soup kitchens shut down by schedule as the summer of 1847 ended marking The Soup Kitchen Act. This act was originally designed to be temporary, till Irish until the autumn harvest. However, because of the insufficient planting in the spring, the harvest of 1847 was only a quarter of the normal size. Thus three million Irish who had come to depend on soup for survival had to feed themselves, with no food handouts, no money, no employment, owing back-rent, and weakened by long-term malnutrition and disease. (58)

VII.7 The Aftermath

VII.7.1 Emigration

Image 7 : A graph showing the indexed population Ireland (the island) and Europe since 1750 (59)

Image 8 : Population Change in Ireland 1841-1851 (60)

            During the worst of the famine, emigration reached around 250,000 in one year alone. Far more emigrants came from western Ireland than any other part of the nation, going to England, Scotland, the U.S., Canada, and Australia. In 1847, mortality rates of 30% aboard the coffin ships were common. (61) The number of younger members of the family contributed to this mass migration rather than the number of families. One thing to note here is that unlike similar emigration patterns found throughout history, women emigrated just as often, just as early, and in the same numbers as men. Emigrants started a new life in a new land. They collectively saved and sent money to their families, which reached 1,404,000 Pound Sterling by 1851. This allowed another member of the family to emigrate.
            Due to evictions, starvation and harsh living conditions, between 1¨ö and 2 million Irish left their country by 1854. With little money, most Irish became city-dwellers in America. Most settled in the cities that the ships they came on landed in. "By 1850, the Irish made up a quarter of the population America's major cities. The 1851 census reported that more than half the inhabitants of Toronto, Ontario were Irish. Canadian cities in particular received large numbers Irish, for it was a part of the British Empire." (62)

VII.7.2 Death Tolls

            "[T]hree children huddled together, lying there because they were too weak to rise, pale and ghastly, their little limbs ... perfectly emaciated, eyes sunk, voice gone, and evidently in the last stages of actual starvation." In Mayo, English Quaker William Bennett wrote of (63) "[T]he aged, who, with the young ? are almost without exception swollen and ripening for the grave." (64)
            The exact number of deaths during the famine is not known, though it is believed more died from diseases than from starvation.
            The potato remained Ireland's staple crop after the famine. At the end of the 19th century, the Irish per capita consumption was the highest in the world: four pounds a day. By the 1911 census, Ireland¡¯s population had become 4.4 million, about the same as the population in 1800 and 2000, only a half of its peak population. (65)

VIII. Potatoes in the History of European Cuisine

VIII.1 The Influence of Potatoes in Cuisine

            The potato had a considerable amount of influence in the European cuisine, for it provided a new staple food. To eat bread, one had to grow the wheat, cut the wheat, make the wheat into flour, cook the flour and bake it into bread in order to consume it. Compared to this complex process, one only had to boil or bake the potato to make it into a meal, which is more convenient to eat. Potatoes were cheap, so it provided abundant food for the people too poor to afford bread.
            When the potatoes were first implemented in Europe, there weren't "dishes", for ones who ate them were mostly ones who couldn't afford a proper meal; they merely boiled or baked them to eat. However, as the potatoes began to gain prominence in Europe, the quality of the dishes prompted, developing potato dishes into a delicacy.

VIII.2 Potatoes in the History of European Cuisine

VIII.2.1 Ireland

Image 9 : Champ (66)

            Two main dishes in Ireland include the Champ and the Bosty. Also called "poundies," the Champ is an Irish food made with mashed potato, shredded kale or cabbage, and onion. To make this meal, one should to the following: (67)

1. Boil the potatoes until they are cooked.
2. Simmer the green onions in milk for about five minutes.
3. Drain the potatoes and mash them.
4. Add the hot milk and scallions, salt, pepper and half the butter and mix.
According to an Irish Cookbook, it says "The secret of success to this Irish potato recipe is making sure all the ingredients are kept very hot while you¡¯re preparing for it" (68)
Image 10 : Boxty (69)

            Another dish is the Boxty. Boxty are pancakes eaten throughout Ireland, and associated especially with the northern parts of Europe. They are traditionally made with grated potatoes, soaked to loosen the starch and mixed with flower, buttermilk and baking powder. (70) To make this meal, one should do the following:

1. Grate raw potatoes and mix with the cooked mashed potatoes.
2. Add salt, pepper, onion and flour.
3. Beat the egg and add it to the mixture with just enough milk to make a batter that will drop from a spoon.
4. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto a hot griddle or frying pan.
5. Cook over a moderate heat for 3-4 minutes on each side. (71)

Boxty on the griddle
And Boxty on the pan;
The wee one is in the middle
Is for Mary Ann

Boxty on the griddle
Boxty on the pan,
If you can't bake boxty
Sure you¡¯ll never get a man

Boxty on the griddle,
Boxty on the pan,
If you don't eat boxty,
You'll never get a man.

            This folk rhyme shows how much of a part Boxty was in the local country and how they were eaten throughout Ireland.

VIII.2.2 Britain

            Britain's potato dishes seem more friendly to people, for their food was most distributed. The two main dishes are Fish and Chips, and Mashed Potatoes.

Image 11 : Fish and Chips (75)

            Fish and Chips is a national dish made from fish (cod, haddock, huss, plaice) deeply fried in flour batter with chips; which are fried potatoes dressed in malt vinegar. Also called "chippie", it is a take-away food. They are not normally home cooked but bought at a fish and chip shop called ""to eat on premises or as a take away. They are also known to be served with a Sunday roast. Fish and Chips became a stock meal among the working classes in Great Britain. (76) Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" (1859) states "Husky chips of potatoes, fried with some reluctand drops of oil" This notes the earliest usage of chips - which date at least as far as 1680.

Image 12 : Mashed Potatoes (77)

            The second dish is Mashed Potatoes. Mashed Potatoes are a major component of traditional dishes such as shepherd's pie, bubble and speak, and bangers and mash. They are often cooked with mint and served with a little melted butter. They are known widely and used as a favorite side dish in many dishes. (78)

VIII.2.3 France

            Dishes in France include the Hachis Parmentier, and the Aveyron Aligot.

Image 13 : Hachis Parmentier (79)

            In France, the most notable potato dish is the Hachis Parmentier, a dish which is named after Antoine Augustin Parmentier, who had a big influence on the acceptance of the potato as an edible crop. The Hachis Parmentier is a dish made with mashed, backed potato, combined with diced meat and sause lyonnaise and served in their potato shells.(80)

Image 14 : Aligot (81)

            A second French dish is the Aveyron Aligot, which is a cheese and potato meal. This cheese is made out from mashed potatoes blended with a bit of butter called creme fraicne, crushed garlic, and melted local cheese. It said to be a requirement that one needs to stir the mixture slowly with a wooden spoon until it becomes gooey.(82)

IX. Conclusion

            While the potato was initially regarded as an "evil" fruit for its disgraceful shape, it gradually was adapted into European countries, making a revolutionary role in many fields including food source for peasants and assisting population increase. We could see the great impact the potato had especially through the aftermath of the potato famine. Now, potatoes are a crucial part of our food source.
            Overall we can see how the potato had a distinct affect in history, and as history developed around the potato, the potato influenced not only the aspects of food, but the economy, population, and delicacy as well. One thing particular about this study was that primary sources were not always useful in pattern and organization but rather contributed to specific details.

X. Notes

(1)      "Potato - History of Potatoes", (Irish Saying)
(2)      "Potato-Chronology"
(3)      "5th century B.C."
(4)      "Discovery" Safra, Jacob E. The New Encyclopedia Britannica (1984)
(5)      "Potato" Safra, Jacob E. The New Encyclopedia Britannica (1984)
(6)      "Potato"
(7)      "Peru"
(8)      "16th Century AD"
(9)      "Europe"
(10)      "The Impact of the Potato"
(11)      "16th Century AD"
(12)      "Potato" Safra, Jacob E. The New Encyclopedia Britannica (1984)
(13)      Hawkes, J. K. The History and Social Influence of the Potato (1985)
(14)      Arnold-Baker, Charles. The Companion to British History 2nd Edition (2001)
(15)      Hawkes, J. K. The History and Social Influence of the Potato (1985)
(16)      The Potato Eaters, by Vincent van Gogh, image from Wikipedia,
(17)      "Potato History"
(18)      "A History of the Propitious Esculent." Feb
(19)      "Potato and its History"
(20)      "History of Potatoes"
(21)      "The Impact of the Potato"
(22)      "16th Century AD"
(23)      Emmison, F. G. Elizabethan Life: Home, Work and Land, Essex Record Office, v.3, pp.29-31
(24)      "The Impact of the Potato"
(25)      Thomas Dublin. Immigrant Voices: New Lives in America, 1773-1986 p.105 (exchanged letters)
(26)      "Potato Leafroll Virus"
(27)      "Potatoes in Ireland in the 1700s"
(28)      Portrait of Antoine Parmentier, image from Wikipedia,
(29)      M. Pitrat and C. Foury. "Histoires de legumes" by, Institut National de la recherche agronomoique (2003) p.167
(30)      "Antoine Augustin Parmentier (1737-1813), the first pharmacist of the Great Army and great promoter of the potato"
(31)      "The Cambridge World History of Food"
(32)      "18th century A.D."
(33)      "Potato"
(34)      Redcliffe N. Salaman. The History and Social Influence of the Potato
(35)      "The Impact of the Potato"
(36)      "History of the Potato"
(37)      John Reader, John. Propitious Esculent: The Potato in World History
(38)      "The Impact of the Potato"
(39)      Map showing the density of potato cultivation in Europe in the early 20th century
(40)      Larry Zuckerman. The Potato: How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World
(41)      Ibid.
(42)      John Reader, John. Propitious Esculent: The Potato in World History
(43)      "Irish Potato Famine"
(44)      "Corn Laws"
(45)      "The Blight Begins"
(46)      "Laissez-Faire"
(47)      "The Blight Begins"
(48)      Skibbereen by James Mahoney, 1847, image from Wikipedia,,_1847.JPG
(49)      Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850
(50)      Redcliffe N. Salaman. The History and Social Influence of the Potato p.300
(51)      "Irish Potato Famine"
(52)      Kinealy, Christine. This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine 1845-52
(53)      Duffy, Sir Charles Gavan. Four Years of Irish History 1845-1849 (1888)
(54)      Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850
(55)      Irish Potato Famine, Bridget O'Donnel, image from Wikipedia,
(56)      "Irish Poor Laws"
(57)      Lyons, Francis Stewart Leland, Ireland since the famine p.73
(58)      "Financial Ruin"
(59)      Ireland, Europe Population 1750, image from Wikipedia,
(60)      Ireland population change 1841-1851, image from Wikipedia,
(61)      "Great Famine (Ireland)"
(62)      "The Famine & The Irish Diaspora"
(63)      Hodges and Smith. Transactions of the Central Relief Committee of the Society of Friends During the Famine in Ireland, in 1846 and 1847 (1852)
(64)      Report upon the recent epidemic fever in Ireland, Dublin Quartly Journal of Medical Science vol.7 (1849)
(65)      Waldron, George B. "The World's Bill of Fare" (November 1898)
(66)      Champ (food), imahe from Wikipedia,
(67)      "Champ (food)",
(68)      Carleton, William, O'Donoghue, David James. Traits and stories of the Irish peasantry, Volume 4 p.328. (1896)
(69)      Boxty, image from The Ryan Family Cookbook,
(70)      "Boxty"
(71)      "Traditional Irish Recipes"
(72)      Ulster folklife, Volume 6, Ulster Folk and Transport Museum., 1960
(73)      The south and the west of it: Ireland and me, Oriana Torrey Atkinson, Random House, 1956
(74)      The Macdonald farm journal, Volumes 27-28, Macdonald College, R. J. Cooke, 1966
(75)      Fish and chips, image from Wikipedia,
(76)      "Fish and Chips"
(77)      Mashed Potatoes, image from Wikipedia,
(78)      "Mashed Potatoes",
(79)      Hachis Parmentier, image from Wikipedia,
(80)      "Antoine Augustin Parmentier"
(81)      Bol d'Aligot, image from Wikipedia,
(82)      Wikipedia : "Aligot"

XI. Bibliography
1) Part 1 : Introduction of the Potatoes
(1) Background
(thesis papers/ books)
Andersson 1996      Andersson, J. A. Potato cultivation in the Uporoto mountains, Tanzania. (African Affairs, 1996)
Davidson 1992      Davidson, Chilies to chocolate: Food the Americas gave the world, "A. Europeans' wary encounter with tomatoes, potatoes, and other New World foods" (Phoenix, Ariz 1992)
Grun 1990      Grun, P. The evolution of cultivated potatoes. (1990)
Hawkes 1992      Hawkes, J. G., and J. Francisco-Ortega. The potato during the late 16th century. (1992)
Huaman 1983      Huaman, Z. The breeding potential of native Andean cultivars (1983)
Hawkes 1993      J. G. Hawkes, J. Francisco-Ortega, The Early History of the Potato in Europe (1993)
Salmon 1695      William Salmon, The Family Dictionary, or Household Companion (1695)
Somerville 1725      William Somerville, Fable of the Two Springs (1725)
Henry 1771      David Henry, The Complete English Farmer (1771)
Ruggles 1792      Thomas Ruggles, Annals of Agriculture (1792)
Mann 2011      Charles C. Mann, "How the Potato Changed the World" (2011)
Lekhnovitch 1961      V.S. Lekhnovitch, "Introduction of the Potato into Western and Central Europe" (1961),
Natural History Museum      The Natural History Museum (UK) : "Seed of Trade," (2012)
Rayment 2000      W.J. Rayment, "Potato! ? History," (2000),
The potato then and now      The Potato Then & Now, "Potato migration to Europe," Prince Edward Island (1999)

(2) Persons
(thesis papers/ books)
Muratori      Muratori-Philippe, Anne, Parmentier, Plon (Paris, 2006)
Blaessinger 1948      Blaessinger, Edmond, Quelques grandes figures de la pharmacie militaire [Some great figures of the military pharmacy] (Paris, 1948)
de Beauville 2010.      De Beauville, Victor, Histoire de Montdidier, Livre IV ? Chapitre II ? Section LIV [The story of Montdidier, Book IV ? Chapter II ? Section LIV], p. 1-21 (2010)
Paule 1956      Fougere Paule, Grands pharmaciens [Great pharmacists] ( Paris, 1956)
(websites) Wik. WR      Wikipedia : "Walter Raleigh,"
BBC n.d.      BBC History : "Walter Raleigh (c. 1552-1618),"

2) Part 2: Potato Boom
(thesis Papers/ books)
Brush 1992      Brush, S. Reconsidering the Green Revolution: Diversity and stability in cradle areas of crop domestication. (1992)
Hobhouse 1986      Hobhouse, H. Seeds of change: Five plants that transformed the world. (NY, 1986)
Horton 1985      Horton, D. E., and H. Fano. Potato atlas. (International Potato Center. Lima, 1985 )
Jellis 1987      Jellis, G. J., and D. E. Richardson.. The production of new potato varieties: Technological advance ¡°The development of potato varieties in Europe.¡± (Cambridge, 1987)
Lysaght 1994      Lysaght, P. Aspects of the social and cultural influence of the potato in Ireland. (1994)
Salaman 1949      Salaman, R. N.] The history and social influence of the potato, ed. J. G. Hawkes. (Cambridge. 1949)
Otago Witness 1905      Otago Witness, "The British Potato Boom," Otago Witness issue 2651 (1905) p. 20
Mann 2011      Charles C. Mann, "How the Potato Changed the World" (2011),
PBS 2009a      PBS : "Potato Control," (2009),
Gibson n.d.      Arthur C. Gibson, "Earth Apple ? Irish Potato," n.d.
PBS 2009b      PBS : "Extended Interview with Michael Pollan" (2009)

3) Part 3: Potato Famine
(thesis papers/ books)
Bourke 1993      Bourke, A. "The visitation of God"? The potato and the great Irish famine. (Dublin, 1993)
Crossgrove 1990      Crossgrove, W., D. Egilman, P. Heywood, Hunger in history, "Colonialism, international trade, and the nation-state" New York. 1990)
Kinealy 1995      Kinealy, C. The great calamity: The Irish famine (Boulder, Colo. 1995)
Messer 1996      Messer, E. The Hunger Report, "Visions of the future: Food, hunger, and nutrition" (Amsterdam. 1996)
Yoshida 2013      Yoshida, K. et al., "The rise and fall of the Phytophthora infestans lineage that triggered the Irish potato famine," (2013)
Johnston 2007      Wesley Johnston, "Ireland's History in Maps," (2007),
Mintz 2013      Mintz, S. & McNeil, S., "The Irish Potato Famine," Digital History (2013),
History Place      The History Place : "Irish Potato Famine - Gone to America," (2000),
Donnelly 2011      Jim Donnelly, "The Irish Famine," BBC History (2011) (journals)
Haas 2009      Brian J. Haas, "Genome sequence and analysis of the Irish potato famine pathogen Phytophthora infestans," Nature 461 pp.393-398, Sept. 9 2009,

4) Part 4: Potato Crusine
(thesis papers/ books)
Armstrong 1986      Armstrong, A. The Joyce of cooking: Food and drink from James Joyce's Dublin. Barrytown, N.Y. 1986
McGee 1984      McGee, H. On food and cooking. New York 1984.
Rutledge 1847      Sarah Rutledge, The Carolina Housewife (1847)
Rickford 2007      Nannette Rickford, "Potato Chips and Their History: Created by an Act of Revenge" 2007,

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