So, yes, it’s a big word indeed, especially when you consider that the spud is traditionally far more comfortable with adjectives like humble. Still, the potato is a vegetable to be reckoned with and, in honour of Jenn’s gesture, here are a few bits and pieces of spud-lore for you. Not necessarily awesome things, but interesting all the same.
(1) When first introduced to Europe, there was a widespread belief that potatoes caused leprosy, the nobbly shape of the early tubers being likened to a leper’s deformed hands and feet.
(2) One of the factors that influenced the eventual acceptance of the spud during the 17th and 18th centuries was the fondness which European countries had for going to war. While cereal crops would be ravaged by invading forces, an army could tramp across, or even camp, on a field of potatoes and the farmer would still be able to harvest the crop. The rise of the potato was thus the silver that lined Europe’s inability to live in peace and harmony.
(3) The War of the Bavarian Succession (1778-9), where Prussian and Austrian armies confronted each other over the right to lay claim to Bavarian territory, is also known as the Kartoffelkrieg or Potato War. As John Reader describes it in A History of the Propitious Esculent:
The opposing forces could do no more than threaten each other, while steadily munching their way through the region’s bountiful potato crop. At the onset of winter both armies … retreated – not victorious, but undefeated and well-fed.
(4) Ireland was one of the first countries in Europe to embrace the wholesale cultivation of the potato. Estimates for the average consumption of potatoes by an adult Irishman around the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries range from 10lb to 14lbs of potatoes a day, with one bishop of the time proclaiming that a labouring man needed 21lbs of the stuff every 24 hours. Nowadays potato consumption in Ireland, while still one of the highest in the world, is a more modest 300lbs per person per year.
(5) During the Great Potato Boom (and Bust) of 1903 and 1904, a frenzy developed over the acquisition of seeds for a variety called Eldorado, with single seed tubers being sold for as much as £150 and harvests being sold at the rate of £4,000 per ton, before said seeds were ever planted. The promise of Eldorado turned out to be as elusive as its namesake, however, and fortunes were lost as the trade in seed potatoes slumped. Remind you of anything?
(6) Spuds are known for their tubers, but they can produce fruit too, as some of mine did this year.
The fruit looks rather like a green cherry tomato, which is not too surprising, as potatoes and tomatoes both hail from the Solanaceae family. Unlike your average cherry tomato, the potato fruit is poisonous, so I do not recommend that you feed this to anyone you like. If potato breeding is your thing, though, you can always cultivate the seeds from your potato fruit and grow your own entirely new variety of spud. Perhaps even another Eldorado, who knows.
(7) Even if you’re not into potato breeding yourself, you will be relieved to know that there are samples of thousands of potato seeds held in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Spitsbergen in Norway. The Seed Vault, built into a mountain in permafrost conditions, holds duplicate samples of seeds from around the world and is intended to provide a safety net against accidental losses from traditional genebanks. Thousands of varieties of potato and sweet potato have been deposited there by the International Potato Centre in Peru, plus some 32 varieties from Ireland’s own national collection. Our spuds should be safe for a long time to come and that is
awesome good to know.
I almost flew right past until I saw eddie izzard – Score!
It’s true that you’re awesome!! I love Eddie Izzard. His shows are hilarious. Awesome spud facts. If I didn’t come here, i wouldn’t have known any of that. Woohoo…I learned something new today. ;-)
I learned a Very Lot from you today, and that is Awesome like a hotdog! I cannot believe I’ve lived in such Spud Lore Ignorance. Thank goodness for you! :D
Eddie Izzard makes me very happy–lovely to see him this morning.
I never considered potatoes having fruit. I am not a dumb man I should have figured they would… GREG
Greetings….didn’t know if you saw this article in the Atlantic Monthly…..meanwhile got some spuds myself today to put into the tagine that will be coming out of the oven later tonight!
i just love reading the daily spud!
I can understand how it is difficult to accept a new thing for a civilization, but this is definitely so interesting that Europeans believed that potatoes caused leprosy just because of its shape.
I didn’t know that potatoes have fruits. I thought I read wrong and turned back, read it again. So interesting. Never seen it.
I love to learn more about spuds. Thank you for this great article.
oh man! now I am worried that the rash I see on my hand is the beginnings of leprosy and that I may have to cut out potatoes! BTW I agree – your blog is AWESOME!
doggybloggy: Eddie’s a winner every time
jenn: hey, glad I could bring you some awesome facts :)
Jenni: awesome like a hotdog, you said it lady!
sippitysup: nobody would ever accuse you of being a dumb man – I had never given potato fruit much thought myself until I managed to grow some!
katie: what a great piece – hadn’t seen it; so glad you’re (still) enjoying the blog – and next time I get to California, I am definitely visiting
zerrin: I guess there are an awful lot of things that people have believed over the years about various foods that have turned out not to be true. In some ways, it’s still the case today!
Carol: oh no – please say you won’t cut potatoes from your diet – I want to see some spuds gracing the pages of your yes-it’s-really-happening cookbook!
Awwwwwwwe-some! Each of these 7 tater tidbits are completely new info for me. How could potatoes ever be considered humble with such history behind it? And if I were to get caught up in an irrational bubble investment, I’d rather do it over spuds than Beanie Babies – at least we can eat the former! 8-D
Great post.I love learning something new with my favorite spud.First time I saw a potato fruit,and thanks for the warning,I would have looked for one :)
Tangled Noodle: “Potatoes – the Investment You Can Eat” – do you think it’ll catch on? :)
Alisa: thanks – hopefully nobody will try to offer you potato fruit but, if they do, you’ll know to avoid!
Great read, I did not know about the potato fruit, maybe I forgot, we grew potatoes when I was little. I’ll have to ask my mom. The speculation on el dorado does indeed remind me of many moments of insanity – for instance the tulip debacle in Holland. It is nice to know that in the event of disaster the species is safe. Look forward to checking out the myriad of ways that the Irish consume 300 pounds a year. Wow, that seems like a lot!
Yes, I think the tulip debacle is probably a better-known example of the same kind of fever. As for the 300lbs annual intake, when you get over here, do look out for meals that feature potato served in at least two forms – it’s not at all uncommon!