Basking in the last days of summer, and desperately trying to distract himself from Trump's antics, our New Yorker takes to Jersey to find out what exactly are these Irish potatoes behind the shamrock signs
It is the final week of summer and weather across the New York area is gorgeous. And yet all I’m hearing about is the Amazon burning, and Greenland, and a president questioning the “loyalty” of U.S. citizens because they express insufficient support for a nation that is -- wait for it -- not America!
Imagine if JFK had questioned the loyalty of his fellow Irish Americans because he believed they just didn’t care enough...about the Pope in Rome! Where is Rod Serling from The Twilight Zone when you need him?
I mean…Greenland! Really? Greenland!?!?
But I’m not getting sucked into all that this week. This week we are taking a trip down to the sunny Jersey Shore. We are playing detective. Food detective.
For once and for all, we are going to find out what, exactly, an “Irish potato” is. The “hand rolled” kind.
Yes. I also was confused.
A little back story. I’m a New York guy. Staten Island, for what it’s worth. A land of a thousand pizza and parmigiana places, and trust me that is not a bad thing. In the house I grew up in ketchup was a delicacy.
Anyhow, 10 years ago the two-bedroom attached home my wife and I were raising four kids in finally got too small, so we moved to New Jersey. Soon after my wife and I began to discover the charms of Philadelphia, which was just an hour’s drive away and had all the great food and drink, energy and history, of Manhattan or Brooklyn, on a more charming scale.
During one spring trip, I spotted a shamrock-festooned sign in a store window -- “Irish Potatoes.” Well, if whiskey or coffee or “spring” (as in the soap) can be designated Irish, why not potatoes? It’s a little inconsiderate, given the whole famine thing, but whatever.
Except these were “hand-rolled” potatoes. And the store, from what I could tell, exclusively sold candies, cakes, and other sweets.
“Of course, I never heard of them in Ireland,” Fergus Carey tells me. Carey is a Dublin native and a big name in the Philly food and drink scene. He’s an owner of and lends his name to, one of Philly’s most colorful and entertaining pubs, Fergie’s on Sansom Street.
“I moved here in 1987. People assume that (Irish potatoes) are Irish and were shocked that I never heard of them.”
But what are they?
This is where the mystery stood until I went to the Jersey Shore with the family last week. Cape May. Wildwood. Atlantic City.
South Jersey in many ways is an extension of Philly, and so I wasn’t exactly surprised strolling along the Wildwood boardwalk when we passed Bogle Brothers Fudge Kitchen. And there was that shamrock-festooned sign again.
I may not be able to find out why that guy in the White House wants to make Greenland the new Alaska. But I was going to find out what a “hand rolled Irish Potato” is.
It is indeed a dessert. A small but hefty diabetic grenade of coconut, cream cheese, and cinnamon. A “regional delicacy, born about a century ago, available in March for St. Patrick’s Day,” Philadelphia Magazine food editor Alex Tewfik wrote in a column earlier this year.
“Back when elementary schools weren’t terrified of lawsuits, moms would bring them into classrooms so you could learn about Irish culture -- though they were invented in Philly.”
Fergus Carey, like me, declares himself “Not much of a dessert guy.” Also, like me, he’d “rather save my calories for beer.”
But I have to respectfully disagree with his culinary assessment of Irish potatoes. (“Disgusting.”)
True, eating one is a little like freebasing a year’s worth of sugary residue from the bottom of the vats at Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. But they were tasty enough. My daughter, Rose, and son, Tim agreed. They polished off the remaining sweet spuds after I took the first one.
“Whoever added the word Irish was smart,” Carey concedes. True enough.
Mission accomplished. Mystery solved. Insert toes into sand. Raise pint of liquid calories. Leave Greenland for another day.
Enjoy the last week of summer.
Have you ever tried these sweet Irish potatoes? Let us know what you thought in the comments section below.
Read more: Irish potato recipes - with a twist!