Silent queen of the shade
Can we do without potatoes? Not likely! The potato has become the number one vegetable in the world. Is there anyone who has not had at least one or two servings of potatoes during the holiday season's feasting? They have accompanied roast turkey, baked lamb, beef, fish, pork, goose duck, ham, and every other meat, fish or fowl you can think of. Not only do they complement any meal, they are available year round since they are harvested somewhere every month of the year. No wonder it is called "the queen of the garden."
Silent queen of the shade
Not only is it considered amongst the most comforting of comfort foods; it is also an important food staple if we can resist adding all the fatty substances we feel should accompany it. French fries, potato chips, and even baked potatoes are literally loaded with butter, sour cream, melted cheese and saturated fat, which render the poor potato a lethal weapon, a potential contributor to a deadly heart attack. Strip off the fat additives and the potato is transformed into an exceptionally high fiber food, a good source of vitamin C, B6, copper, potassium, manganese, and dietary fiber. They also contain a variety of phytonutrients that have antioxidant activity, like carotenoids, flavonoids, and caffeic acid, as well as unique tuber storage proteins, such as potatin, which exhibit activity against free radicals. Despite all these endless attributes, I can see the shaking heads of all sceptic readers. Potatoes are high carbohydrate, white food that are totally verboten on any weight loss diet. Will you at least give ear to the Agricultural Research Service Center which has recently revealed that spud's phenolic content rivals that of broccoli, spinach, and brussel sprouts? It also includes flavonoids with protection against cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems, and certain cancers.
There is more. The Center identified high levels of vitamin C, folic acid, quercetin, and kuko-amines. Now I, for one, had not the slightest idea that I needed kuko-amines, but it seems they have blood lowering potential, found in no other plant except in the gogi berry. I will take a potato over a gogi berry any day. Have I convinced you yet, that it is time to shed the old image of the fattening potato and to enjoy the many phytochemical benefits of the spud non-fried! If not, then just enjoy potatoes for the sheer pleasure of their taste, their versatility and their satiating satisfaction.
Mashed, baked, roasted, or creamed, a meal without potatoes provides little comfort. This element of comfort probably inspired the potato's scientific name Solamum tuberosum, Latin for "soothing tuber." Other members of the same family include tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and tomatillos.
High up in the Andean mountain region of the South American Continent, the Incas of Peru and Chile cultivated the potatoes 4000 -- 7000 years ago. Archaeologists have found potato remains that date back to 500BC. The Incas not only ate them, they worshiped them. They buried potatoes with the dead; they stashed potatoes in concealed bins for use in case of war or famine. They dried them and carried them to eat on long journeys. They called them papas, and still do. They even had a prayer dedicated to them: "O Creator, multiply the fruits of the earth, the potatoes and other food so that man may not suffer from hunger and misery." Twenty five centuries later, we still revere that roughly ovoid brown tuber, with its starchy white flesh.
In the 16th century Spanish Conquistadors in search of Inca gold, had to be satisfied with the lovely Inca spud, which they brought back to Spain. It was then carried to Italy, England, Belgium, Germany, Austria and France. It met with fear and resistance, and in France was "forbidden under pain of fine to cultivate it." It took France two centuries to appreciate the attributes of the potato at the hands of a French military chemist and botanist, Antoine Augustin Parmentier (1737 -- 1813). He created over two hundred manners to cook a potato. In your culinary explorations, you must have savoured one or more French potato dishes that bear his name.
The world's most widely grown vegetable, potatoes are grown almost everywhere, eaten every day, by almost everyone. Even in Asia, where rice is the main staple, potatoes are eaten regularly, making China the number four producer of potatoes worldwide. It is not inconceivable to find, on any given dinner table, one or more savoury potato dishes, as its taste and texture render it most versatile, as a soup, main dish, or side dish. Only 20% solid and 80% water, starch makes up 85% of the solid material while the remaining 15% is protein. Besides, an average size potato is only one hundred highly nutritious calories unless you smother it in fat, and who would not suffocate under so much fat! Therefore, the rumour that they are fattening must have started with broccoli growers!
Russia grows about 33% of the world's potatoes, almost twice as much as any other country, and they often feed on nothing else. So did the Irish once, until in 1845 the potato crop failed, resulting in the Great Famine which killed at least one million, and sent another 1.5 million emigrating to North America and Australia. The Irish population dropped by one half, from 9 million to a little over 4 million.
It was not until the late 19th century that the potato became accepted as edible human foods. Slowly but surely everyone discovered how delicious and how nutritious, and how very useful. Why, even alcoholic beverages, flour and bread are made out of that rather ugly looking brown spud, which grows in the dark and in silence underground. The famous chemist Parmentier persuaded King Louis XVI (1754 -- 1793) to cultivate potatoes, and wife Marie Antoinette, it is said, pinned potato flowers that grow on the green stems above ground in her curls. Had she tasted of the flesh of that ugly-looking brown spud, covered in dirt, that grows underground, she would have suggested that the poor should eat potatoes instead of brioche, which could have spared her head.
He laid a feast before me of 5 different courses -- potato soup, potato fricassee, potato creamed, potato salad, and potato pie.
The meal seems the best I ever had. -- General Douglas MacArthur (1880 -- 1964)