The centerpiece of a cottage’s batterie de cuisine was a huge cast-iron pot: huge because it had to cook very many potatoes indeed (twenty pounds of them or more easily required for a meal); so huge that it regularly performed the duties of a table itself. Depending on the season, a child was sent either to dig up the potatoes from the ground or to gather them from under the bed. Sometimes they were scraped (not peeled, an act that slices away too much of the nutritious layer next to the skin), but often they were not. They were scrubbed clean of dirt and put into the pot; the pot was put directly on the fire and the potatoes boiled until they were done.

Potatoes and buttermilk make delicious champ, but they’re not the food of a rich people. A household could grow enough potatoes to feed itself ten or eleven months of the year, however, with scrimping and a little luck, and visitors such as Asenath Nicholson were struck by Irish generosity with what they had. Sometimes luck runs out, however; the potato blight ruined the ability of poor Irish freeholders to feed themselves as their potatoes withered and died in the ground, blackened and turned to rot in their cellars. The boll weevil destroyed cotton plantations in the South and ushered in a new age of diversified farming (via Your Pocket Guide); the potato famine sent millions of Irish hurtling across the ocean to wherever they could, wherever there was food and a chance at a better life There are more Irish-Americans today than there are Irish. And, the Pogues sang, "Their bellies full, their spirits free, they’ll break the chains of poverty. And they’ll dance."

"Thousands are sailing across the western ocean," sang the Pogues, and they were right. The Irish diaspora dispersed the starving Irish throughout the world: in the Pacific, in South America, to Canada, and, of course, to America. Other poor sections of the British Isles, notably Scotland and Cornwall, had mass migrations in the nineteen century, but the Scottish and the Cornish didn’t plan foreign unrest and stoke fearful nativism. That was the role of the Irish; a conquered people whose way of life had been taken from them. The Irish were a cow-owning people: beef eaters, cattle thieves, and (according to 17th century visitor John Stevens), "the greatest lovers of milk I ever saw, which they eat and drink about twenty several sorts of ways and what is strangest, for the most part love it best when sourest." But the English had come and taken their land and, for the most part, taken their cattle; what they had given the Irish in return was the potato (and possibly not even that; although most credit Walter Raleigh for introducing the potato to Ireland, it may have arrived via trade with Catholic Spain; the English didn’t really know what to do with the newfangled American root). The potato became the centerpiece of Irish cuisine from sheer necessity:

The centerpiece of a cottage’s batterie de cuisine was a huge cast-iron pot: huge because it had to cook very many potatoes indeed (twenty pounds of them or more easily required for a meal); so huge that it regularly performed the duties of a table itself. Depending on the season, a child was sent either to dig up the potatoes from the ground or to gather them from under the bed. Sometimes they were scraped (not peeled, an act that slices away too much of the nutritious layer next to the skin), but often they were not. They were scrubbed clean of dirt and put into the pot; the pot was put directly on the fire and the potatoes boiled until they were done.

Potatoes and buttermilk make delicious champ, but they’re not the food of a rich people. A household could grow enough potatoes to feed itself ten or eleven months of the year, however, with scrimping and a little luck, and visitors such as Asenath Nicholson were struck by Irish generosity with what they had. Sometimes luck runs out, however; the potato blight ruined the ability of poor Irish freeholders to feed themselves as their potatoes withered and died in the ground, blackened and turned to rot in their cellars. The boll weevil destroyed cotton plantations in the South and ushered in a new age of diversified farming (via Your Pocket Guide); the potato famine sent millions of Irish hurtling across the ocean to wherever they could, wherever there was food and a chance at a better life There are more Irish-Americans today than there are Irish. And, the Pogues sang, "Their bellies full, their spirits free, they’ll break the chains of poverty. And they’ll dance."