By Tony Glover Cullman County Extension Coordinator
If you are from the South you may have heard
white potatoes called ‘ arsh taters ’ when you were growing up . When I was young I had no idea that old timers were saying , Irish potatoes until I heard someone pronounce it properly . Even then I was not sure why they were “ Irish ”. Irish potatoes did not originate in Ireland or for that matter they did not come from anywhere in Europe . They originated in South America and only made it to Europe when earlier explorers took it back . Its connection to Ireland is a negative one . The poorer Irish people had become very dependent on this one crop for a large part of their diet . In the mid-19th century a terrible disease , which we still deal with on potatoes , called late blight decimated the crop for several years in a row . In addition to the crop failures there were tremendous political failures that exacerbated the depth of the disaster and led to massive starvation . It subsequently led to a mass migration of Irish people to the United States . Despite the crop failures the Irish people loved potatoes , the name became associated with them , and hence the name we use today . Some folks use the term even more broadly to include both white and red potatoes but the name is more closely associated with white potatoes .
Sam Glover , Tony Glover ’ s grandson , shows off a bucket of arsh taters .
The disease that so devastated Irish potatoes spread so quickly because there was practically no genetic diversity . Potatoes are grown from tubers that are saved to start the next crop and they are all genetically identical . They are referred to as ‘ seed potatoes ’ but of course they are not seed . The people had selected the best producing types which were distributed far and wide . This lack of genetic diversity made them particularly susceptible to a disease which the potatoes had no or very little resistance . It is a warning to all of us that genetic diversity is important in the prevention of plant disease and other pest and not just in potatoes .
We still grow potatoes from tubers rather than from seeds . This method of growing and later storing so called “ seed potatoes ” for the next year still presents a logistical problem in