Potatoes played a role in the history of Atlantic Canada. The Lumper potato particularly was in part responsible for the immigration of many Irish settlers. When we eat potatoes today, we can thank the Incas.
The wild potatoes found in South American mountains, specifically the Andes in Peru and Ecuador, are small and somewhat toxic. However, after generations of Inca farmers selected the largest and best-tasting tubers to plant, they ended up with potatoes similar to those on our tables today.
Some historians suggest that the arrival of potatoes ended the frequent famines that afflicted Europe and, as such, may be partially responsible for the success of European colonization of many other parts of the world.
After 1845, however, people would never again see potatoes as a way to end famine. The Lumper potato was grown throughout Ireland in the early 1880s largely because of its ability to produce heavy yields in poor soil. In the early to mid-1800s, potatoes provided the bulk of the diet of many rural poor in Ireland.
The extreme dependence on one crop, and one clonal variety, set the stage for the Irish famine. Unlike most crops, potatoes are not grown from seed. Instead, tubers are planted. In this way, the original potato is cloned. Essentially, all potatoes of a certain variety are genetically identical (except for very rare mutations). As a result, potatoes and other plants propagated like this tend to be particularly vulnerable to epidemics.
Lumper was susceptible to potato late blight, which destroyed about one-third of Ireland’s potato crop in 1845 and almost all of it in 1846. Potatoes rotted in the fields or in storage. The blight had catastrophic consequences, including food riots and mass death from starvation.
Did the Lumper potato cause the potato famine?
The vulnerability of the potato to blight was only one part of the equation. The poverty that forced so many people to rely on potatoes for sustenance was the underlying factor leading to the famine. More than a million people died as a result of the Irish Potato Famine, and approximately two million people emigrated to the colonies, including what is now Canada.
Check out the following potato recipes: Neeps and Tatties or Rosemary Root Vegetables.