The Daily Spud

...there's both eatin' and drinkin' in it

Spud Sunday: Of Potatoes And Potato Eaters

Now, before I get to the meat and potatoes of this post (or the potatoes, at any rate) I have a little housekeeping to do. Over the past while, a number of fellow bloggers have been kind enough to acknowledge this here potato eater in various ways and a big (and in some cases, way overdue) thank you is in order for the following badges of blog honour:

butterfly award
This little blog butterfly fluttered here from Heather at Diary of a Fanatic Foodie, who is not only a fabulous foodie, but a fanatic cocktail creator too. Basil and Lemongrass Martini anyone?
kreativ_blogger_award
The Kreativ Blogger comes from Zerrin at Give Recipe. She’s been giving us all a delicious introduction to her native Turkish cuisine and to new ways with familiar vegetables. Thanks to Zerrin, I know what I’ll be doing with spinach heads in future!

honest_scrap_award

The Honest Scrap was bestowed by Mama Chicken from Journey to Thrift, where she joyously produces tasty food for her family, including some superb looking bagels, without breaking the bank.

The usual thing would be to spread the love and pass these on to other worthy blogs. However, there are so many blogs that I read and enjoy that it makes it a hard task to choose some and not others, so I think you should all share a piece of the glory. Just keep writing and I’ll keep reading.

The Potato Eaters by Vincent Van Gogh

The Potato Eaters by Vincent Van Gogh - image from www.vangoghgallery.com

The other usual thing in the case of the Honest Scrap would be for the recipient to enlighten the reader by telling them ten things about themselves that the reader might not know. I’m going to turn this somewhat on its head and tell you ten things that you may not know about potatoes and potato eaters (or perhaps you’re like me and you do know these things, in which case get in touch, we should start a club). Much of the following comes to me by way of John Reader’s excellent book Potato: A History Of The Propitious Esculent. Here goes…

(1) People were eating potatoes as far back as 12,500 years ago. Yep, we’re talking late Ice Age. The remains of potatoes from this era were found preserved at a site in Monte Verde in Southern Chile along with the bones of the now-extinct mastodon, a relative of the equally extinct woolly mammoth. Who knows but that the favourite meal of the ice age chilean was mastodon burger and chips.

(2) It’s estimated that domestication of the fairly toxic and bitter wild potato started in Peru around 8,000 years ago and, even today, farmers in the Andes grow at least 400 distinct varieties of potato.

(3) Papa Llunchuy Waqachi is one such Andean potato, whose name translates as “potato that makes the daughter-in-law weep”. The story goes that if the bride-to-be does a good job of peeling this potato, she is allowed to marry her man…

Papa Llunchuy Waqachi

Papa Llunchuy Waqachi - image from www.foodcultura.org

(4) All of the cultivated potatoes that we are familiar with are members of a single sub-species developed in the Andes, solanum tuberosum tuberosum (so good they named it twice).

(5) Cultivation has significantly reduced the level of toxic glycoalkaloids found in potatoes, but some varieties in common use today, including Home Guard and British Queen, still have dangerously high concentrations during early tuber growth, only passing the danger zone once the tuber matures and the foliage dies.

(6) Listen to what your mother may have told you and avoid eating any part of a potato that has turned green. It’s an indicator of those glycoalkaloids, which can be concentrated by too much exposure to light during growth.

(7) While we mostly tend to think of the potato in carbohydrate terms, it’s got some high quality protein too, especially if you eat them skins and all. The biological value of potato protein – a measure of nitrogen absorbed and retained by the body for growth and maintenance – is second only to that of eggs. In controlled experiments, people have sustained active lives for months, subsisting on potatoes and a little margarine, maintaining perfect health and without weight loss or gain. Probably not having much fun though.

(8) Someday, we will have spuds in space. Potatoes are one of the mainstays of NASA’s Bio-regenerative Life Support System, a self-sustaining food system, in which astronauts on long missions will grow their own vegetables. So, if they should ever undertake that mission to send people to Mars, they’ll be eating spuds all the way.

(9) Back down to earth and you’ll no doubt be shocked and horrified to learn that this here potato eater wasn’t actually that keen on boiled spuds as a kid. I’m over that now, as you can probably tell.

(10) That other great potato eater in my life, my Da, ain’t that keen on crash hot potatoes. He told me so the other day. He doesn’t get the slightly-mashed-but-with-skins-still-on thing. So family take note and stick to mash.

24 Comments

  1. whoa! so much potato info! i love the picture of that bumpy one! glad you got so many well deserved awards. i agree about passing them on. it’s so hard to pick ones to give it to – i like the way you did it :)

  2. I loved all the history! This was a great post!

  3. I would have to say that #3 is my favorite, and #9 was definitely a shock/interesting. I am glad that you eventually came over to the dark side of potato loving because now I have a great food blog to visit! :) Long live the potato!

  4. how fun to read all that info about potatoes!

  5. Congrats on your awards!! Well deserved!!

  6. Of course I will say that if I had to peel that ‘weeper’ then the haunting memory of my father saying ‘stop complaining I had to peel thousands of those when I was in the navy’, I would have just not gotten married, and been an independent woman as I am today! lol

    I love the information…yours truly…food geek E

  7. What a great post! I learned so much about potato history. Congrats on all you awards, they are certainly deserved. I just love your blog!

  8. Wow, that is one mean, lumpy potato! I wonder how he feels about himself, making all the single ladies weep. I wonder what Beyonce would say? I wonder if he would taste good if I just baked him and ate him, skin and all? So many questions…. :)

  9. Very interesting about the glycoalkaloids and green potatoes. I once managed to grow a big bucket of mostly green potatoes. I never understood why when some others planted earlier but in the same way were fine–now I wonder if it isn’t because the green ones were still young! I can get a little carried away about potato-growing, but hopefully you understand :)

  10. too funny! Keep the potato love coming… :)

  11. I love food history!! Burgers and chips during the Ice Age? That is too cool!

  12. Thank you for all this intersting info on potatoes. I loved the photo of the one which makes the the daughter-in-law weep. It’s pretty clear in its photo.

    I also loved the picture by van gogh.

    I think mom didn’t warn me about the parts of potato turning green, is that really harmful? She told me “if there is a blackish part in a potato, cut it deep.” or are you talkng about the same thing?

  13. So interesting! Thanks for the wonderful nuggets of info!

  14. Excellent post! Sure, I had to look up propitious (“favorable”) and esculent (“edible”) but that’s one of the reasons I love your blog: I always leave Spud-ucated! 8-)

    It’s a great selection of info tidbits that honestly increases my respect for this tuber. So long, soy – the potato is the true wonder food!

    And congratulations on your recent awards; as always, they are so well-deserved.

  15. Daily Spud

    Monday, March 9, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    Heather: thanks! so glad I was able to get hold of a picture of that bumpy one, it needs to be seen :)

    noble pig: thanks!

    shane: we all have these little dark secrets in our past, very glad I got past #9 :)

    Natasha: yep, it was fun for me reading about all of that!

    Sophie: thanks so much

    Chef E: those bumpy potatoes are quite a deterrent, lol!

    Lori: thanks so much, I’m learning all the time myself and enjoying it too

    Jenni: I think baking skin ‘n’ all is the way to go with this guy, do what he least expects… :)

    Laura: I understand completely :) The greening (as I understand is) can happen if the spuds are too close to the surface of the soil and are exposed to light which causes the development of chlorophyll (hence the greening). These same conditions also result in an increase in the concentration of glycoalkaloids in the spud, so the two things (greening + high levels of glycoalkaloids) often occur together.

    Mama Chicken: potato love is where it’s all at :)

    Reeni: I liked that particular image myself – too cool indeed!

    zerrin: well, if you encounter either green or blackish parts of a potato, then both should be cut out, though they happen for different reasons (see my earlier comment to Laura about the greening). The green parts won’t kill you or anything but, as I understand it, they could cause digestive irritation if consumed in any large quantity and so they are best avoided.

    megan: you’re welcome

    Tangled Noodle: thanks as always – and I had to look up those words too :)

  16. Wonderful information… Do you know about raw potato – I’ve heard both that its safe and healthy AND that its toxic.

    I’m really glad the potato has survived all these thousands of years for use to enjoy – the skins are my favorite part!

  17. Re No. 8… Spuds in space some day. Done already, surely! Remember the Smash ad? Or are you too young? It came in second place in the 100 Greatest Ads (a Guinness one came first… the list must have been Irish… Guinness first; spuds second). Anyway, the little Martians (or Venusians or whatever) enjoyed their mash and were quite tickled that we earthlings “peel them with their metal knives”.
    And here’s a shocking personal fact that will, no doubt, be anathema to you and your spud-loving readership. Are you ready? Here it is… I absolutely love instant mash. I make it with milk and lots of butter and I just love it. On the rare occasions when I’m on my own for dinner I indulge myself and make a whole packet of it. Yum. And it’s great too for topping Cottage Pie if you’re stuck! Sorry Spud!

  18. Wow, All the tater info I need in one quick read. Except, did I miss the factoid on tater tots? You can’t have been a kid in America and not secretly adore every crunchy aspect of the tot. Is is just not the same in Ireland, are children denied tots?? GREG

  19. The potato eaters is one of my favorite Van Gogh paintings. It’s one of his earlier ones, and relatively unknown! I just love the raw expressions on all of the faces.

  20. Daily Spud

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    gastroanthropologist: when it comes to eating the raw version, I think the issue is more one of digestability rather than potential toxicity – though I don’t currently have a good citable reference covering that area of info

    Berna: ah, yet more dark little secrets coming to the fore! and I’m struggling to remember the Smashing Spacers, clearly I am too young :)

    Greg: up until very recently I had not heard of tater tots; I saw a reference to them on RecipePlay and had to email Will to ask him just what they were, so now I know, but… I still haven’t (to my knowledge) eaten one, so it remains a big hole in my culinary tater experience!

    Joie de Vivre: it wasn’t one I’d come across until very recently, surprised I’d never heard of it before

  21. It’s funny, I didn’t really like mashed potato til I hit adulthood and suddenly got into bangers and mash. With lots of onion gravy…

    And I love the potato that makes the daughter-in-law weep :-)

  22. Daily Spud

    Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    I guess we all have tastes that change over the years. Very glad to hear that you got into the bangers, mash and onion gravy – a noble combination!

  23. Call me weird, but I wonder if they grew like that because of the rocks and hard ground, so they grow around it all? That is so like me to come back for another look at that tator and think so long :) or do I just need some real tator tutorial?

  24. All hail the great tuber – loved the post. Congratulations on the awards – its always a joy to stop by and see what new and wonderful recipe or topic has popped up. Although I confess to wanted to try them all, and I feel the onset of fatigue comes up with the effort to keep up with you. But, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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