When you're talking about St. Patrick's Day cuisine most likely the staples come to mind: corned beef and cabbage, Irish stew, Irish soda bread, and of course green beer. But how often do you hear about dessert? We know the Irish are a fun-loving people so why wouldn't they enjoy something sweet after dinner? One of my favorite Irish people certainly does. Kathleen Boyle Wrigley is North Dakota's second lady (husband Drew Wrigley is the lieutenant governor). She says growing up in Philadelphia, St. Patrick's Day was always a big deal for her family and Irish Potato Candies were a must for dessert.
I know what you're thinking: "I'd rather kiss the Blarney stone than have a potato for dessert."(I'll get to that in a minute) and "isn't it odd to celebrate the potato at a St. Patty's party when it brings to mind the greatest tragedy in Irish history?"
The Great Irish Potato Famine happened from 1845 to 1852 after potato blight destroyed most of Ireland's potato crop. One million people died from starvation, millions more emigrated west to the United States and Canada to find food. (In fact, in doing my own family history research I learned my second great-grandmother survived on potato peelings as a young girl before her family immigrated to Ontario.)
Following the famine, with disease controlled, the potato resumed its status as Ireland's staple crop. It continued to be an important part of the Irish diet. In fact, at the end of the 19th century, it's estimated that potatoes made up about 80 percent of the Irish people's caloric intake. Even today more potatoes are eaten in Ireland than most countries in the world.
So the potato, despite a sad chapter, is still something to be celebrated in Ireland.
After having said all that and having given you the history of the tuber in Ireland, I have to fess up. This recipe doesn't actually use any potatoes. The sweet candied balls rolled in cinnamon simply look like potatoes. Consider it a sweet nod to Irish culinary culture. For your St. Patrick's Day party plate them surrounding a loaf of Irish soda bread or serve them along with a glass of Bailey's Irish Crème. They're super easy to make, so you'll have plenty of time to enjoy the party - green beer and all!
Irish Potato Candies
¼ cup butter, softened
½ (8 ounce) package cream cheese
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
4 -5 cups confectioners' sugar
2½ cups flaked coconut
1-2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
In a medium bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Add the vanilla and confectioners' sugar; beat until smooth. Using your hands if necessary, mix in the coconut. Roll into balls or potato shapes, and roll in the cinnamon. Place onto a cookie sheet and chill to set. If desired, roll potatoes in cinnamon again for darker color.