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Friday, June 08, 2012 8:06 PM
“It must be very nutritious, or it would not sustain the strength of thousands of people whose almost sole food it constitutes”. Eliza Acton (Modern Cookery for Private Families 1845).
Spuds, tatties, taters…whatever you call them, potatoes have long been a staple of life around the world.
Boil, bake, roast or fry; serve hot or cold, in or out of their jackets, creamed or plain, potatoes fit in to any meal. They can make a dish on their own, be an integral part of a meal or an accompaniment to a wide range of other foods for everyday tables and special occasions.
The Incas were eating (and worshipping!) them in 5th Century BC South America, from where the Spanish conquerors of the 14th century brought them to Europe.
First grown in Britain at the end of the 14th century, potatoes soon spread to France and the Netherlands, as well as to Ireland, where conditions were ideal for its cultivation. Immigrants took it to North America. In Europe initially the potato was a botanic specimen, admired for its flowers, the tubers being regarded as fit only for feeding pigs!
The potato followed the old trade routes in Asia, spread even further by immigration and colonisation. Back in the Andes, where it all started, a national register of Peruvian native varieties has been set up to help conserve the country’s potato heritage.
Only a small portion of the gene pool had left the Andes, and it was more than a century before more varieties, suited to long summer days, appeared just in time to come to the rescue in the late 18th century European famines and the potato’s value as a food security crop was recognised. Soon, the potato was a staple of the diet across Northern Europe, although it was still vulnerable to blight and after three harvests were lost in the mid-19th century, with devastating results, especially in Ireland, the search was on for hardier, disease resistant varieties.
Seed potatoes came to New Zealand with the early settlers, and the crops sustained pioneer families, for whom they were often a substitute for meat. Potatoes continue to be one of the most popular vegetables for the home garden. Ignore the anti-potato brigade – in moderation, potatoes are nothing but good for you and all members of your family.
According to “VEGFED", potatoes are the most popular vegetable in NZ with 87% of us eating them at least three times per week and 35% of us having spuds daily.
Today over 50 different varieties are grown in New Zealand, some used only for processing. The differences in texture, flavour and shape make each variety suitable for its own particular method of cooking.
Best for baking, roasting or mashing: Soft, floury textured Ilam Hardy, Red Rascal, Agria, Fianna, White Delight (limited, localised supply).
For boiling and salads, look for a waxy potato: New season potatoes, Draga, Nadine, Frisia, Jersey Bennie, Liseta, Red King Edward, Tiffany.
General/multi-purpose varieties are neither too waxy nor too floury: Go for Rua, Desiree, Karaka, Moonlight and limited or localised supplies of Red Ruby, Rocket, Maris Anchor.
New potatoes should be put in salted boiling and really shouldn’t be peeled…wash and just give them a little scrape if needed. Add some mint to the water when boiling potatoes, or serve sprinkled with chopped parsley. When you have drained ready potatoes, leave in the pot, put a clean, dry dishtowel on top and pop the lid partly back on…it takes away any excess water and keeps the potatoes looking good before serving.
Potatoes are a good source of B group vitamins, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium iron, phytonutrients, carbohydrates and fibre. There is a special fibre in potato skin that helps to protect against some cancers, so to get the most goodness from your potato, leave the skin on. Potatoes also contain anti–oxidants
Potatoes are not fattening, however some cooking and preparation methods are! Potatoes have had some bad press for being fattening, but it isn't the potato’s fault — it is what we do to it!
For example, per 100g: A boiled potato has 0.2g of fat, a baked potato in the jacket has 0.3g fat, roasted potatoes have 5g fat, oven baked chips have 6g fat, a jacket-baked potato with added sour cream has 7g fat, deep fried chips have 14g fat and potato crisps have 34g fat
What to look for
When you’re buying potatoes, look for good quality – and preferably are labelled with the variety and the name of the grower/packer. The skin should be firm and unblemished, with no bruising, green patches, shoots or “dig" marks.
When potatoes are exposed to light they can develop a green colour resulting in chlorophyll formation in the surface layers. Associated with this is the formation of a toxic alkaloid, solanine. The amount of green pigment depends on the intensity of the light, length of exposure and age of potato. New potatoes are really susceptible to greening. Don’t confuse the quite yellow flesh of some varieties with greening. If you do purchase potatoes with lots of greening return them to your retailer. If there are small amounts of greening simply peel or scrape away the greening and use the potato normally.
Natural dirt and dust on potatoes can help to keep them fresher so it is best not to wash them until you are ready to cook them — or if you buy ready washed buy small quantities regularly.
Ethylene is a naturally occurring plant hormone which hastens both ripening and deterioration. Potatoes are ethylene sensitive, so try not to store them alongside ethylene producing foods such as apples, tomatoes, passionfruit, stone fruit, bananas, avocados, pawpaw, kiwifruit, pears, melons.
Ideally, store potatoes in a cool, dark place…a cotton bag or a cardboard box helps keep them fresh. Don't put them in the fridge, and always remove them from plastic packaging. Handle them gently; potatoes bruise easily.
(Thanks to VEGFED, NZ Vegetable and Potato Growers Federation Inc., for information used in this feature. Look them up on www.vegetables.co.nz)
Potato notes for fun
The Incas of the 5th Century BC not only grew potatoes for food but also worshipped them, buried them with their dead, stored them in hidden bins against war and famine, dried them and carried them on long journeys, when they were eaten en route, dried or soaked in stew.
Do you remember the childhood game?
One Potato, Two Potato
One potato, two potato,
Three potato, four,
Five potato, six potato,
Seven potato, more!
Playing the game: Children stand in a circle and hold out their hands in a fist with thumbs up. The leader takes one fist and begins counting off each fist by gently tapping them. When the leader needs to count his/her counting fist, tap it on the chin. When you get to "more", put that fist behind your back. Keep repeating the rhyme over and over until one fist is left. That child is the winner and becomes the new leader. It can also be used for picking teams – each time the one fist is left, the child goes in one or other team, thus ensuring fair selection.
"Money is the root of all evil, and yet it is such a useful root that we cannot get on without it any more than we can without potatoes."
Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888), American novelist
"What I say is that, if a fellow really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow."
A. A. Milne (1882-1956),
popular children's author
"My idea of heaven is a great big baked potato and someone to share it with."
Oprah Winfrey, television personality
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