The history of the potato has its roots in
the windswept Andes Mountains of
South America. It is an austere region
plagued by fluctuating temperatures and
poor soil conditions. Yet the tough and
durable potato evolved in its thin air
(elevations up to 15,000 feet), climbing
ever higher like the people who first
settled the region.
The tough pre-Columbian farmers first
discovered and cultivated the potato some
7,000 years ago. They were impressed by its
ruggedness, storage quality and its nutritional
value. Western man did not come in contact
with the potato until as late as 1537 when the
Conquistadors tramped through Peru. And it
was even later, about 1570, that the first
potato made its way across the Atlantic to
make a start on the continent of Europe.
Though the tuber was productive and hardy, the
Spanish put it to very limited use. In the Spanish
Colonies potatoes were considered food for the
underclasses; when brought to the Old World they
would be used primarily to feed hospital inmates.
It would take three decades for the potato to spread to
the rest of Europe. Even so the potato was cultivated
primarily as a curiosity by amateur botanists.
Resistance was due to ingrained eating habits, the
tuber's reputation as a food for the underpriveleged
and perhaps most importantly its relationship to
Potato In Europe, at first, potatoes are just ornamental plants specially the
hanging potato variety.
King Frederick II of Prussia first introduced the use potato to be eaten
to fight against famine during world war, most of the soldiers that time
become weak and sickly due to starvation. So he asked them to start
cultivation of potatoes for eating.
While in Ireland the potato gained acceptance from the bottom up, in
France the potato was imposed upon society by an intellectual. Antoine
Augustine Parmentier saw that the nutritional benefits of the crop
combined with its productive capacity could be a boon to the French
farmer. He was a pharmacist, chemist and employee of Louis XV.
Parmentier discovered the benefits of the potato while held prisoner by
the Prussians during the Seven Years War. He was so enamored by the
potato that he determined that it should become a staple of the French
diet. After failing by conventional means to convince Frenchmen of its
advantages, he determined upon a surreptitious means of making his
Potato Europe would wait until the 1780's before the potato
gained prominence anywhere. About 1780 the people of
Ireland adopted the rugged food crop. The primary
reason for its acceptance in Ireland was its ability to
produce abundant, nutritious food. Unlike any other
major crop, potatoes contain most of the vitamins
needed for sustenance. Perhaps more importantly,
potatoes can provide this sustenance to nearly 10 people
on an acre of land. This would be one of the prime
factors causing a population explosion in the early
1800s. Of course, by the mid-1800's the Irish would
become so dependent upon this crop that its failure
would provoke a famine.
Parmentier acquired a miserable and unproductive
spot of ground on the outskirts of Paris. There, he
planted 50 acres of potatoes. During the day, he set a
guard over it. This drew considerable attention in the
neighborhood. In the evening the guard was relaxed
and the locals came to see what all the fuss was about.
Believing this plant must be valuable, many peasants
"acquired" some of the potatoes from the plot, and
soon were growing the root in their own garden plots.
Their resistance was overcome by their curiosity and
desire to better their lot with the obviously valuable
Soon the potato would gain wide acceptance across Europe
and eventually make its way back over the Atlantic to North
America. As time passed, the potato would become one of
the major food stuffs of the world. But not without a few
bumps in the road. The 1840's saw disastrous potato blight.
This terrible disease was caused by a fungus known as
Phytophthora infestans. With the devastation of potato crops
throughout Europe came the destruction and dislocation of
many of the populations that had become dependent upon it.
The Potato Famine in Ireland would cut the population by
half (through both starvation and emigration). An effective
fungicide was not found until 1883 by the French botanist,
The potato is a member of the nightshade
family and its leaves are, indeed,
poisonous. A potato left too long in the
light will begin to turn green. The green
skin contains a substance called solanine
which can cause the potato to taste bitter
and even cause illness in humans. Such
drawbacks were understood in Europe, but
the advantages, generally, were not.
Are connected to the root
system. However, they are
not directly connected to
the stem and leaf system of
Potatoes are classified
according to their starch
content. The amount of
starch determines the use for
which they are most suitable.
Waxy or new potatoes.
High moisture content, high sugar content, low starch
Usually small and round in shape, but some varieties
can be large, and some may be elongated in shape.
Flesh is white, yellow, or even blue or purple. Skin is
white, red, yellow or blue.
Hold shape well when cooked. Firm, moist texture.
Use for boiling whole, for salads, soups, hashed
browns and any preparation where the potato must
hold its shape.
Do not use for deep-frying. High sugar content will
cause dark streaks and poor texture.
Mature or starchy
High starch content,
low moisture and sugar.
Light, dry and mealy
Russets or Idahos.
Long, regularly shaped potatoes with slightly rough
Ideal for baking. Best potato for French fries because
the high starch content produces an even, golden
color and good texture. Also, the regular shape means
little trimming loss.
May be used for mashing, but is generally too
Sizes are indicated by count per 50-pound carton. For
example, 100s average 8 oz each.
All-purpose (sometimes called chef
• Not always as dry and starchy as
• Irregularly shaped, less
expensive than russets.
• Suitable for most purposes
except baking (due to shape).
• Especially useful for pureeing or
mashing, or any presentation in
which the shape of the whole potato
is not important.
Fingerling or Ratte Potatoes
Some potato recipes are simple, but many are
complex and use a combination of cooking
Boiling and Steaming Potatoes
Boiled potatoes are generally started in cold
water rather than hot. This allows for more even
cooking and heat penetration from outside to
inside during the relatively long cooking time
Potatoes are never cooled in cold water, unlike
most vegetables. This would make them soggy.
Potato puree is an important product in most
kitchens, even though it is not served as is. It
is the basis of many popular preparations,
including mashed or whipped potatoes,
ducheese potatoes and potato croquettes.
(Please take note that this usage of the term is
different from classic European usage, where
puree de pommes de terre means mashed or
Preparing baked potatoes is a simple
procedure, which, for some reason, is
widely misunderstood and needlessly
complicated. Properly baked potatoes
are white, fluffy, mealy and steamy.
Poorly baked potatoes, unfortunately
common, are gray and soggy.
Sautéing and Pan-frying
There are many varieties of
sautéed and pan-fried potato
preparations. Some are made
with raw potatoes, others with
precooked or blanched potatoes.
Many of these recipes are
especially useful because they
are excellent ways to utilize
leftover boiled potatoes.
There are two kinds of deep-fried potato preparations:
Potatoes fried raw.
These are potatoes that are simply cut into various shapes and deep-
fried until golden and crisp. They include all the varieties of French
fries as well as potato chips.
Russet or Idaho potatoes are most suitable for frying because of their
high starch content and their regular shape, which permits less
Preparations made from cooked, pureed potatoes.
Most these products are made from ducheese potato mixture. They
include potato croquette variations, Dauphine potatoes and Lorette
Starchy potatoes are used for these recipes, as they are for ducheese
potatoes, because they make a good dry, mealy puree.
Because French fries, or deep-fried
potatoes, are one of the most popular
items in American food service, you must
know how to prepare them well. Most
French fries served are made from
blanched, frozen products, but it is also
important to know how to make them
from fresh potatoes.
Baked “En Casserole”
A number of preparations call for potatoes
baked in a baking pan or casserole, with or
without liquid added. The best-known is
scalloped potatoes. A characteristic of most of
these preparations is that they are baked
uncovered at least part of the time so that a
brown crust forms on top. (Note that two
versions of Gratin Dauphinois are included
here. The first is a modern version, while the
second is a more traditional version.)
Common Potato Dishes