Today potatoes are the fourth largest food crop worldwide, after rice, wheat, and corn. But in the 18th century the potato, a giant sort of root, was unheard of as a food source. It was considered weird and even downright frightening to people.
The Inca Indians in Peru were the first to cultivate potatoes around 8,000 BC to 5,000 B.C. In 1536 Spanish Conquistadors conquered Peru, discovered the potato there, and took it back to Europe with them.
Sir Walter Raleigh introduced potatoes to Ireland in 1589. It took nearly four decades for the potato to spread throughout Europe. Farmers in Europe discovered that potatoes were easier to grow and cultivate than other crops, such as wheat and oats. Even better, potatoes contained most of the vitamins needed for survival, and a crop of potatoes could feed nearly 10 people for each acre of land. Potatoes were introduced to the United States beginning about 1600, but they were not grown much until the early 1700s.
When potato plants bloom, they send up five-petal flowers that look like stars. Marie Antoinette liked the blossoms so much that she put them in her hair. Her husband, Louis XVI, put a potato flower in his buttonhole, which started a trend for a while among the French aristocrats. At the time (in the late 1700s), it was also an attempt to persuade French farmers to plant potatoes and French diners to eat this strange new root plant that was just being introduced.
Mr. Potato Head
In 2008 a Lebanese farmer dug up a potato that weighed nearly 25 pounds. It was bigger than his head!
Did you know?
The state of Idaho is the largest producer of potatoes in the United States. However, Idaho actually did not begin growing potatoes until 1836, when missionaries moved west in an effort to teach the native tribes to grow crops instead of relying upon hunting and gathering methods. It wasn’t until 1872 when the Russet Burbank variety was developed, that the Idaho potato industry began to really “grow.”
Potatoes in space
In October 1995, the potato became the first vegetable to be grown in space. NASA and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, created the technology with the goal of feeding astronauts on long space voyages, and eventually, feeding future space colonies.
The French fry is not really French at all. Historians believe potatoes were first fried in the late 1600s in Belgium, by poor villagers who needed other sources of food when the rivers froze in the winter. American soldiers stationed in Belgium during World War 1 discovered them, and since the official language of the Belgian army was French, the soldiers called them “French fries.” The name stuck.
Founding Father Fries
French fries were first served in the United States at the White House. They were served during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency of 1801-1809.
Do you want fries with that?
French fries are one of the most popular side dishes in the world. People like to dip them in ketchup, mayonnaise or vinegar.
In the United Kingdom, they call fries “chips” and eat them with fish. In Belgium they eat fries with mussels or with a fried egg on top. In France, they are often served with steak. In Canada, they eat poutine, a dish of French fries and cheese curds, with brown gravy on top.
In 1853, railroad magnate Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt was at a fashionable resort in Saratoga Springs, NY. He complained that his potatoes were cut too thick and sent them back to the kitchen. The angry chef sliced some potatoes paper thin, fried them in hot oil and served them. To everyone’s surprise, Vanderbilt loved them, and “Saratoga chips,” or potato chips, have been popular ever since.
Don’t be a dud, EAT A SPUD!
Little Ranch Smashed Potatoes
Grab your adult and and your apron to make this quick side dish for dinner or a great movie snack for the family.
These little potatoes can be dressed up with ranch or your favorite seasoning salt. Change it up and add some shredded cheese or herbs and parmesan.
Ready in 30 minutes, serves 3-4
• 1 lb small red or fingerling potatoes
• 2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter
• Dry Ranch Dressing mix, to taste
• Salt and pepper, to taste (optional)
• Shredded cheddar cheese or parmesan cheese
• Scrub potatoes and pat dry.
• Prick each one twice with the tip of a sharp knife. Arrange in the microwave in a circle. Microwave on high until tender, approximately 4 minutes, but will vary depending on microwave and size of the potatoes.
• Line cookie sheet with foil or parchment paper.
• Place cooked potatoes on cookie sheet and gently ‘smash’ by pressing down with the back of a spatula or a glass.
• Drizzle olive oil or butter over them, turning to coat.
• Sprinkle with dry Ranch Dressing mix or salt and pepper to taste.
• Sprinkle parsley over potatoes
• Roast at 400°F for 20-30 minutes until golden brown and crispy, depending on desired degree of doneness.
Sprinkle with cheese after 15 minutes in oven.