Fried, baked, mashed, how do you like your potatoes?
For a simple, brown tuber, potatoes have a very long history.
In ancient Peruvian and Chilean ruins, archeologists discovered potato remains dating back to 500 B.C. The Incas cultivated them near Lake Titicaca, at 12,500 feet above seal level in the Andes mountain range between Peru and Bolivia. Inca potatoes ranged in size from a small nut to an apple and in color from red and gold to blue and black. There are 5,000 potato varieties still grown in the Andes.
The Incas grew, ate and worshipped them. They placed raw potatoes on broken bones, carried them to prevent rheumatism and ate them with other foods to prevent indigestion. The Incas used them to measure time by correlating units of time with how long it took potatoes to grow.
The Spanish conquistadores failed to find significant quantities of gold or silver, but instead, in 1565 returned to Spain with an incredible treasure: the potato. Today it is the fourth largest food crop in the world.
Freeze-dried potatoes or “chuño” was an Inca innovation. “Chuño” is still produced and consumed in Peru. Potatoes are spread on the ground on frosty nights. During the day they are covered with straw to protect against the burning rays of the sun and in this manner they turn completely white. After exposure to several nights of frost, women and children trample the potatoes to get rid of moisture and wear away the peel. Next, the potatoes go into a stream of running water for a couple of weeks in order to wash away their bitter taste. Finally they are dried for no more than 14 days and later stored, without problems, for up to 4 years.
From Spain the potato continued its journey to the rest of Europe; arriving in England and Italy around 1585, Belgium and Germany 1587, Austria 1588 and France 1600’s. An Irish legend has it that ships of the Spanish Armada wrecked off the Irish coast in 1588 were carrying potatoes and some washed ashore. Potatoes arrived in the US around 1600’s.
Wherever potato was first introduced, it was considered weird, poisonous and downright evil. In France it was accused of causing leprosy, syphilis, narcosis, early death, sterility, rampant sexuality as well as destruction of the soil where grown.
So…..how do you like them potatoes?