Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Irish Apricots & Potato Cheesecakes.

You are all familiar, I think, with the concept of ‘Welsh Rabbit’ as an ethnic joke (the Welsh are too poor to buy or too stupid to catch real rabbit.)  There are other examples of food names being used in this way. Take Irish Apricots for example.  In A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785,) the author, Francis Grose has:
Potatoes: It is a common joke against the Irish vessels, to say they are loaded with fruit and timber, that is, potatoes and broomsticks.

A magazine of 1821 gave the following alternative names:

Dr. Munster’s pills, Munster plums, Irish apricots, Dungarvon almonds, Hibernian mandrake, Eastham Ginning, Windsor nutmegs, &c.

I must look into the story behind “Dr. Munster’s Pills,” but the other names speak for themselves I think, - r rather, they reflect the attitudes and prejudices of the speaker.

The potato was very slow to be taken up in the West, unlike some of the other New World discoveries such as chocolate and maize. From the beginning, it was considered lowly food, suitable for pigs, peasants, and prisoners. One who did promote it in the seventeenth century was John Forster (‘Gentleman’), who published a treatise in 1664 called:

England's Happiness Increased, Or a sure and Easy Remedy Against all Succeeding Dear Years by a Plantation of the Roots called Potatoes: Whereby (with the Addition of Wheatflower) Excellent Good and Wholesome Bread may be Made Every 8 or 9 Months Together, for Half the Charge as Formerly; Also by the Planting of These Roots Ten Thousand Men in England and Wales Who Know Not How to Live, or What to Do to Get a Maintenance for their Families, may on one Acre of Ground make 30 Pounds per Annum. Invented and Published for the Good of the Poorer Sort.

The potato was grown widely in Ireland a long time before it became common and popular in the rest of Britain, and Forster was the first to refer to it as the “Irish potato” (to distinguish it from the sweet potato which was more widely known.) 

Forster’s booklet included a number of recipes for the potato, including this one, which is my favourite:

How to make Potato Cheesecakes.
You may make Cheesecakes of Potatoes after this manner. Take of the roots, well broken, and rubbed through a wier Sieve, what quantity you please; grated Bread a quarter as much, Cream and Eggs beaten together, enough to make it of a fit consistence, or so thick as is usually made for this purpose; Currants, Sugar, and Spice, of each as much as is needful: Stir all these things well together; then raise your Coffins in form round and shallow, which fill with your former mixture, afterwards bake them in an Oven, and you will have Cheesecakes (so called, à formà & similitudine) in goodness exceeding those that are made of Curd of Milk: These Cheesecakes may be made even in the midst of Winter, when the other sort, by reason of the scarcity of Milk, and the coldness of the weather, are seldom to be seen.


Shay said...

In our household "Irish confetti" was a brick.

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Shay - sorry to be late getting back to you on this. Very funny!