Right next to the shamrock and the shillelagh, when you think of things Irish, there is the potato.
"Only two things in this world are too serious to be jested on -- potatoes and matrimony," says an Irish aphorism. And there is the description by one Irishman of a seven-course meal in his native land: "A six-pack of beer and a potato."
Which brings us to the perfect way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day: Have a potato party. A startling number of people have food fantasies which center on the potato. Mashed in fluffy heaps enriched with cream and butter. The Perfect French Fry. Hash browns served with eggs and bacon and toast. tBaked, split open and lolloped with sour cream. Tiny new potatoes baked in their skins with lots of butter and chopped fresh mint. The rich, cheesy layers of potatoes Anna.
And, an absolute necessity for St. Patrick's Day: Potatoes O'Gratin.
Think how easy it is to prepare a whole menu of potatoes. Chips to serve with drinks, or potato peels crisped in the oven and coated with coarse salt. A first course of vichyssoise, a main course of Shepherd's Pie with its mashed-potato topping, and side dishes of any and all of your favorite potato recipes.
So people will feel they've had their leafy greens, serve potato salad, tossed with parsley and capers, on a bed of fresh spinach.
For dessert you can make "Joy of Cooking's" potato flour brownies and serve them with ice cream topped with Black Russians. (Vodka is frequently made from potatoes).
I know one person who did give a potato party and, on the theory that when you begin to celebrate an item, you ought not to adopt half-way measures, he asked his guests to write poems to the potato and come up with tuber tunes. You could even pass out potato puzzlers:
What state has Famous Potato on its license plate?
(Idaho, of course.)
Who was William Cobbett?
(An Englishman who, faced with the growing use of the tuber in that country, wrote a diatribe calling it "a root worse than useless.")
When was the Potato War fought?
(1778-79. Known more commonly as the War of the Bavarian Succession, each side cut the other's supply lines, leading hungry Prussians to dub it Kartoffelkrieg, or the Potato War.)
Who was Potato Jones?
(A blockade runner, captain of a steamer loaded with . . . guess what! which attempted to run Franco's blockade and provide succor and French fries to the Loyalists. Two fellow blockade runners were known as Ham-and-Egg Jones and Corn-Cob Jones.)
Who is credited with introducing the potato to Ireland?
(No, no, it was not St. Patrick, but Sir Walter Raleigh, he of the courtly cape.)
If all this seems too small potatoes for an Irish holiday, there is always Irish whiskey. And a shop in Annapolis, Hats in the Belfry (103 Main St.), is selling green bowlers for $8 to hosts who have made a serious commitment to the wearing of the green.