This time, a BBC story looks at the recent decline of the spud, and whether its recent-ish poor reputation is really deserved. But along the way we get a bit of history, of which I was not really aware:
The potato used to be considered something of a wonder food. Grown originally in South America, its introduction to Europe literally transformed agriculture.
Before the introduction of the potato, those in Ireland, England and continental Europe lived mostly off grain, which grew inconsistently in regions with a wet, cold climate or rocky soil. Potatoes grew in some conditions where grain could not, and the effect on the population was overwhelming.I hope you noticed the title of the book in there. I don't believe I have ever seen the word "esculent" before. Let's double check the dictionary: a thing, esp. a vegetable, fit to be eaten. Well, we learn something every day.
"In Switzerland, for instance, the potato arrived in the early 18th Century and you can see over and over again as people started growing potatoes, the population grew," says John Reader, author of The Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent.
"Birth rates rose, infant mortality improved, women became more fecund and all of that can be absolutely attributed to the potato."
For decades, potatoes were one of the most reliable sources of energy. They grew when other grains and vegetables could not, they required little processing once grown, and they packed a healthy dose of nutrients.
Back to the BBC article. It appears that somehow, the writer located a potato obsessive in New Mexico:
That is why Meredith Hughes, managing director of the Potato Museum, is not worried about pockets of anti-potato sentiment. "I don't agree that the potato is vilified," she says. "I think the potato is just taking off."Actually, given that the potato is becoming more popular in China, she could have a point about the potato "just taking off".
Ms Hughes and her family have built up the largest private collection of potato artefacts, currently located in New Mexico, but in search a permanent home. Both she and the museum are unaffiliated with the potato industry.
"The potato is an incredibly influential food," she says. "It has changed the course of history, it has influenced popular culture. It has saved people from starvation."
Anyway, this makes me feel like checking the potato recipe book I got from the book fair. I guess I'm cooking again this Saturday.