I call myself an Irishman, but my Green Isle heritage is a bit far from the true native Irish tree. My “lassie” genes have been diluted with German, and French, and a bit of Cherokee (from Virginia) so I’ll claim any and all those heritages, when it suits me. Back to the Irish part. Let’s see. My mother’s maiden name is Patrick, because her father (my grandfather) was a Patrick (he’s the one that proposed to my grandmother at the boarding house and then spent the first night of marriage on the banks of the Mississippi). HIS great grandfather was born in Ireland, snuck away on a ship as a stowaway, and landed in New York. That’s my great, great, great Irish grandfather…so I’m close enough. Technically, we’re Scottish because our family migrated from Scotland, to Ireland, around 1770. But today, I’m claiming Irish. It’s chilly in SoCal (yes, “chilly” is a relative term. I’m thinking of ya’ll in the snowy northern states!) and I craved hearty, hearthy, warming soup. So authentic, historic Irish Potato Soup sounded ideal.
Irish potatoes are not Irish. Wait, what? Nope, the tuber knows as the Irish potato was originally cultivated by Inca Indians and is native to the Andes of South America. It was brought to Europe in 1536 by Spanish conquistadors and was brought to Ireland by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1589. It was found that the potato carries most of the vitamins needed for sustenance and thus, was grown extensively in Ireland. Unfortunately, the disease called late blight affected this spud, and because so many Irish families almost solely depended on this food source, the blight resulted in the 1840’s Great Irish Famine (during which a million people died of starvation and disease and another million left Ireland – a horrible time for the Irish).
While my White House Cookbook recipe (1887 version) calls for Irish potatoes, any white potato will do (common white varieties include Kennebec, Superior, Atlantic, Cascade, Snowden, White Elephant, White Rose, and Cal White). White potatoes generally hold their shape when boiled (think “potato salad”) and can be boiled, fried or roasted but don’t do well mashed (too much starch – use gold potatoes for mashing).
Irish Potato Soup
Peel and boil eight medium-sized potatoes with a large onion, sliced, some herbs, salt and pepper; press all through a colander; then thin it with rich milk and add a lump of butter, more seasoning, if necessary; let it heat well and serve hot.
The White House Cookbook, 1887
I began with boiling the onions and whole potatoes, plus some chopped raw potatoes I had left over from making potato hash.
After boiling until tender, rinse the potatoes to eliminate some extra starch.
Next, repeatedly convince the potatoes and onions to go through the holes of the colander, which is actually, quite annoying. Using an electric mixer or my Kitchen Aid mixer would have been so much easier than pushing cooked potatoes and onions through tiny holes, but I was well behaved and stuck to the historical process, which took a long, long time.
All went back into the pot, with added copious amounts of butter (mmm, butter) (eliminate butter for true vegetarian option) and dried herbs (thyme and oregano), salt and pepper. I added a little whole milk to get a more soupy texture.
Voila’! Historic Irish potato soup!
If you love potatoes, you will like this recipe. It’s basically …. mashed potato soup. Since I’m a diehard spud fan, this was alright by me (a suggestion is to lay on the butter and the herbs).
- 6 medium sized white potatoes
- 1 small onion, chopped
- ¼ TBS, butter
- thyme, dried and minced, to taste
- oregano, dried and minced, to taste
- ¼ milk (or more until desired consistency)
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Boil potatoes and onions until tender.
- Mash potatoes and onions through a colander until lumps are removed.
- Place back in pot with butter, herbs, salt and pepper.
- Add milk until desired consistency.