‘What is this?’ an American visitor asked recently, indicating a row of plants growing in our kitchen garden and dotted with purple and white flowers in full bloom. That an adult should not be able to identify what is without doubt one of the world’s most important crops, was a shock. To look down on the flowers that
One summer a retired CIA colonel from Washington DC put me in touch with the Potato Museum* in his home town, and the idea of bringing out a book about the potato began to germinate. The arrival of their newsletter, Peelings, was as exciting as anything else the postman could deliver and with it began my realisation that the influence of the modest tuber was not just as a food source of global significance and inspiration to writers and painters, but also as a mover and shaker in the history of our world. It saddens me then that this vegetable, in spite of attempts to revive its popularity in the last twenty years, has yet to achieve star status. It is hardly ever mentioned in the numerous books and articles that discuss healthy eating and yet its nutritional qualities are well established. I recently had a letter from a nutritionist who has noticed that patients suffering from depression who switch from a wheat-based to a potato-based diet find their symptoms improved. I have read, too, that the doctors who examined the immigrants passing through Ellis Island, New York in the latter half of the 1800s found the Irish to be fitter than those from other countries. Was this in spite of, or because of, their reliance on the potato? The tuber’s medicinal properties, it seems, are more appreciated in South America, where at one time potatoes were used as dowries.
This book was originally put together in calendar form, with a recipe for every day. This seemed reasonable, since the character of potatoes and potato dishes changes with the seasons. Publishers thought otherwise, so with the help of my daughter
Since the first edition of The Potato Year in 1992, I have received many letters that attest to the ubiquity and love of the vegetable. I have learned of Potato Days and events celebrating potatoes all over the world. Here in Ireland in 2008 a schools’ competition, ‘Meet the Spuds’, was initiated by Agri-Aware, encouraging children to grow the tubers and chart their progress. I remember the winning project included songs about potatoes. I have been sent recipes from interested strangers; a Dutchman sent me a recipe for Hutspot, a potato dish of historical significance, cooked annually as a commemoration of the independence of the Netherlands. A Belgian television crew filmed here to include Ireland in their six-part series covering different countries from both hemispheres where potatoes have had a special influence. The potato has indeed played a significant role in the history of our world.
* This museum is now the Food Museum, Albuquerque.
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