potatoes (solanum tuberosum)
The Origin of the Potato
The potato was first cultivated in South America (south of Peru and the northeast of Bolivia) more than 7,000 years ago. Scientists and archaeologists believe potatoes may have grown wild in this region as long as 10,000 years ago. In 1536 Spanish Conquistadors discovered the potato and shipped them to Europe. Before the end of the sixteenth century, people of Basque region began to cultivate potatoes along the Biscay coast of northern Spain, but it took nearly four decades for the potato to spread to the rest of Europe. But there the cultivation of potatoes had its difficulties and potatoes were considered to be unfit for human consumption.
So, in northern Europe, potatoes were primarily grown in botanical gardens as an exotic novelty or were used only as animal fodder. In most of Europe, the upper classes understood the potato's potential long before the more superstitious lower classes. So, the encouragement to grow potatoes had to come from above. In England the Royal Society recommended the cultivation of potatoes. Louis XVI began to sport a potato flower in his buttonhole, and Marie-Antoinette wore the purple potato blossom in her hair. But still it did not achieve widespread acceptance until the late 1700s.
"Kartoffelbefehl" (Potato Edict)
Once there was a king called Fritz. One day he heard about a new wonder plant from South America: The potato. He planted a big field in a nearby village and preached to his subjects about the potatoes nutritional and economic virtues. His subjects did not want to be told what to eat and rejected Fritz’s potato endorsement. But the king had an idea. He ordered his soldiers to march to the village and guard the potato field. The fortified field piqued the villagers’ curiosity. The king ordered the guards to go easy on the vigilance at night, allowing baited locals to steal the potatoes for their own gardens. From this days on the potato flourished and has lived on as a staple of the local cuisine ever since. And to this day, people commemorate Fritz by putting potatoes on his tombstone at Sanssouci Palace.
The King in this small anecdote is Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. He was a particular fan of potatoes but, as his counterparts in England, France and Austria, he couldn't convince his farmers to cultivate more potatoes. Prussia was an agricultural country. Its people were practical, hard-working, with a dry sense of humour. Frederick the Great was a clever man – as his friend Voltaire would attest. He had great accomplishments as a ruler and general. But most of all, Friedrich knew his people. So he used reverse psychology by declaring the potato a "royal vegetable". The local population, now banned from eating potatoes, decided that if potatoes were good enough for the king, they were certainly good enough for the peasants. Secretly farmers started growing their own potatoes and soon there was a black market for it. Frederick eventually had to "magnanimously" legitimise the potato.
Today, potatoes are German staple food. And worldwide there are potato dishes in endless variety, including potato pancakes, potato salads, and potato dumplings. Potatoes can be found in haute cuisine restaurants, or simply enjoyed outdoors at the pommes-frites-kiosk. They are nutritious and tasty and keep the world from getting hungry. Potatoes are remarkable for both its adaptability and its nutritional values. Providing a lot of starch, potatoes are rich in vitamin B and C, contain a high amount of minerals and are an excellent source of fibre. They provide more nutritious food and require less farm land than any other food crop, and this in almost any habitat.
The fact sheet below gives an overview about the ingredients and nutritional values of potatoes. In the upcoming post I will give some healthy recipes using potatoes.