RECOLLECTIONS ON GROWING UP GROWING 'ARSH' POTATOES IN EASTERN KENTUCKY'S APPALACHIAN COAL COUNTRY. Interesting memoir by Ike Adams which reveals the central nature of growing and eating potatoes in the hollers of Letcher County.
Despite some ups and downs, thanks to storeability and the remarkable number of high-quality-food-calories a modest potato patch can produce, growing potatoes has provided self-reliant independence for rural families for thousands of years.
Over 40 years ago we were taught by our old farmer-neighbor, Doss – born in 1899 – that 'Irish Cobblers' were the best variety to grow.
Now, Doss' great grandson, Ryan Bradstreet, here in Bridgewater is one of the last farmers in the State of Maine who continues to still grow 'Cobblers' as Certified Seed.
While we believe other varieties have superseded Cobblers (it is pretty susceptible to Late Blight) it's true they are a great eating potato and have a storied history. Jim
"Sixty years is a long time in one man's life, but I'd be willing to bet that I was at least 10-years-old before I equated the term 'Arsh' with 'Irish'. I'm 70 now and still a slow learner.
"When I was a little feller on Blair Branch, the most important rite of spring was plowing up gardens and planting a crop of arsh taters. Of the 50 or so families who encompassed the three-mile stretch of Blair Branch and perhaps a dozen other families who lived nearby, off the main holler, but had kids attending Blair Branch Grade School, there was not a single household in the 1950s that did not make some arrangements to plant and tend a tater patch large enough to keep the spuds stored and then fed for the next 12 months.
"Of course, our subsistence also depended on numerous other vegetable crops, but what we now know as Irish Potatoes were as essential to basic nutrition as life, itself, way back then. We may have had some variety on the rest of the menu, but Blair Branchers and most other rural, mountain families had taters, in one form or another, set on the table two or three times every day at mealtimes.
"Many, if not most, families relied on one or two varieties of 'certified' seed potatoes. We went to the closest neighborhood store and purchased 100-pound sacks of them and/or also kept an heirloom variety called 'Irish Cobblers' that we saved back from year to year."
POINTS EAST: A staple for most meals growing up
Sixty years is a long time in one man's life, but I'd be willing to bet that I was at least 10-years-old before I equated the term "Arsh" with "Irish".