Pádraic Óg Gallagher handed me four oddly shaped potatoes and told me that these “Lumpers” were his favorites. He said it with passion. He told me that this was the variety eaten before a blight wiped out the crops and changed the history of Ireland the 1800’s.
I had come to meet Pádraic because his Dublin restaurant, The Boxty House specializes in boxty – a traditional Irish potato dish, with a history. Boxty is made by mixing mashed potato with grated potato and sometimes flour. The mixture is turned into pancakes, or formed into balls and boiled, sliced and fried. The earliest literary reference to boxty can be found in a writing by William Wilde in 1804. Patrick Gallagher, (not our Pádraic) known as Paddy the Cope wrote about boxty in a short story called Boy in Ireland.
“Boxty was looked on as a rare feast, probably because there was white flour in it. There were no shop graters to grate the potatoes on then. Every house made its own grater by ripping a canister and punching holes in it. We had great feeds of boxty on turf cutting days and on the days of scouring flannel”
Boxty was first popular in the north west of Ireland and it’s popularity spread across the country with time. Thanks to Pádraic’s creativity, this dish has evolved into modern variations that have become popular both in Ireland and in Irish restaurants in other countries.
Pádraic is a recognized expert on the potato. He has written and presented papers on the potato, it’s history in Ireland and has grown more than 100 varieties of potatoes. He shared several theories that explain how the potato came to Ireland. Some think that potatoes drifted ashore from Spanish galleons that brought the vegetable back from conquests in South America. Others speculate that the potato arrived through trade with the Spanish. Many European countries did not eat the potato and fondness for the vegetable grew with time. In the 18th century France the potato was considered to be poisonous and was thought to cause leprosy. The potato was not indigenous to North America but was brought by the Europeans when they began to colonize.
The potato was a food staple in Ireland and when a disease hit the crops in 1845/6 many people starved to death or emigrated to other countries.
The Boxty House is located in the popular Temple Bar district of Dublin, where tourists and locals visit the pubs, drink Guiness and hear traditional music. Pádraic opened his restaurant in this area of the city in 1989 when rent was cheap because this was an area of Dublin to avoid. His risk paid off and now his location is perfect. He remembers fondly eating boxty as a child. As a young man, while working in Caracas, Venezuela, he had the idea to turn the boxty pancake into a dish similar to one popular in South America. As a trained chef, he returned to Ireland, opened his restaurant and twenty-nine years later he is still making boxty history. His modern take on the traditional boxty has been hugely successful. One dish on the Gallagher Boxty House Menu is: “Our Famous Gaelic Boxty” which is described on the menu as: Tender medallions of Irish Fillet Beef in a Whiskey and Mushroom Cream Sauce wrapped in a traditional Leitrim Boxty pancake. That dish has come along way from the humble plain boxty served in the peasant’s house. But even a plain boxty pancake gives us the special taste of a vegetable that has been grown, prepared and enjoyed on tables in many countries for centuries.
On The Boxty House website is this description of their vision:
“It’s a place where there is a strong connection with the land, our culture and our history, a place where we invite people to embrace the origins of the Boxty Pancake and the home grown produce on the menus.”
For more information visit their website at http://www.boxtyhouse.ie