On the farm - issue 7

The wonders of the potato

For the Incans, a potato was more than just a food source. Lore had it that if you carried a tuber with you, it could prevent rheumatism or help soothe a toothache

This week, we are discussing all things potatoes - mostly to keep in my brothers good books after he's spent the week digging new potatoes down the marsh. Tom, your efforts aren't wasted! Now onto some facts!

Each spud has a use

When it comes to starch, each potato has its own sugary profile, which makes them not only have contrasting tastes, but cook differently too. For example, have you ever ended up with a gummy, sticky mess of mashed potatoes? Chances are you used a high-starch spud.

When you buy them, potatoes are still alive

Remember Notting Hill, where the fruitarian suggests the carrot is murdered? Well, unlike that plucked carrot or bunch of dead grapes, a potato is still living when you harvest it, albeit in a dormant state. Warmth and moisture can cause the spuds to start sprouting, which is why you are supposed to keep them cool and dry. Poor potatoes!

A sweet potato isn’t actually a potato

“Sweet potatoes belong to the morning glory family (also known as the convolvulaceae family) and are actually swollen roots,” says LaCourse. “They are not related to the Irish Potato.” They are also very hard to grow in the UK due to the soil temperature, few farms have found ways, and we are trying very hard but at the moment ours are about the size of a babies foot!

Potatoes were first grown in South America

Many people assume potatoes are Irish, or, at least, come from Idaho. While they grow in both places, the Inca Indians in Peru were the first to cultivate potatoes around 8,000 BC to 5,000 BC. This vegetable made its way to Europe aboard the Spanish conquistador ships around 1570, and though they planted potatoes in Spain, they mainly used the crop as livestock feed.

Potatoes were the first vegetable grown in space

In a partnership between NASA and the University of Wisconsin, seed potatoes were first tested in space in 1995 aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia.

Potatoes can turn green

Like with other plants, sunshine causes photosynthesis to occur in potatoes. So, if you want to avoid a green-skin tuber, keep your roots in a dry, dark place and away from pesky sunbeams.

Potatoes last a long time if you treat them right

First, if you are growing potatoes you need to make sure to dry them off after harvesting before you can store them. Don’t wash them! In fact, that ruins the protective skin, so you are better off placing the dirt-encrusted tubers in a cool, dry and dark spot. They could last up to six months this way.

Potatoes aren’t just for eating

For the Incans, a potato was more than just a food source. Lore had it that if you carried a tuber with you, it could prevent rheumatism or help soothe a toothache. They also used raw potato for treating ailments, from healing broken bones to easing frostbite to helping clear up of blemishes on the skin. Instead of taking a hot bath as we are prone to do, the Incans eased aches by rubbing the sore area with the water from a batch of boiled potatoes.

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