Without the potato, the balance of European power might never have tilted north.Michael Pollan
Potato chips, hash-browns, baked potatoes, home fries, mashed potatoes, and tater skins are just some of the incredibly delicious things you can make with potatoes. The potato is an unusual little tuber that has played an important role in the history of the world and was, in fact, the primary food crop for an entire nation. National Potato Day celebrates this wonderful tuber and all the things you can use it for. What’s your favorite potato treat?
History of National Potato Day
Potatoes were first cultivated by man in Southern Peru and the Northwest regions of Bolivia sometime between 5000 and 8000 BC. From that point forward it has spread all over the globe to become one of the primary staple crops of many cultures. Potatoes are a favorite part of American cuisine, with millions of different forms of preparation to be found. Potatoes are even used to make bread, rolls, and pancakes, and as such can be found in every meal of the day.
For a time, Ireland was so reliant on the potato as a food crop that a potato plague managed to starve the entire country. Make no mistake, there was plenty of food being grown in Ireland at the time, 5 ships full a day were being sailed out of the country, but the people of Ireland were being drained dry by the English who ruled them that potatoes and cabbage were all they had to live on.
The Russians, on the other hand, discovered quite a different use for the potato. Are you a fan of vodka? Good news! Good Russian Vodka is actually a distillation of potato, and the name vodka means “Little Water”, a clear indicator of its importance in Russia.
Today, the humble potato is the fifth most crop worldwide, coming in after wheat, corn, rice, and sugar cane, as measured by total calories cultivated. Interestingly, the potato was something of a curiosity in Europe at the start of the 18th century. Merchants had only just begun bringing it from South America and experimenting with it as a type of food. Most people, including those living in Ireland, had never seen anything like it before.
The humble potato, however, soon took off in popularity. The way the plant grows makes it inherently more productive than grains – the crop that historically provided the vast bulk of the average person’s calories. Grass crops tend to become tall and fall over when the berries on top get too heavy. Potatoes, though carry on growing, regardless of the size and shape of the plant on top. So long as the plant collects sun rays, it has sufficient energy to produce the starches that make up the potato tuber’s internal structure.
It is no wonder, therefore, that National Potato Day has become a sensation. The humble spud has been providing populations with a stable source of calories for centuries. It started its journey in South America and then made its way to Europe, following the discovery of the New World.
The potato is so nutritious that people can live off it for months at a time without having to supplement their diet with any other foods. What’s more, it is cheap and tasty, forming a vital constituent of many of the world’s favorite foods!
How to celebrate National Potato Day
National Potato Day is best celebrated by incorporating the noble potato into every dish you prepare. For breakfast, you can’t beat hash browns seasoned with salt and pepper and drowned in sausage gravy and cheese. Lunch should always be accompanied by a bag of potato chips, especially if you spread them across your sandwich to give it a nice salty crunch. Dinner time isn’t complete unless you have a baked potato, or our personal favorite, mashed potatoes with garlic, onion, and cheddar cheese mixed in.
However, fellow potato lovers are becoming more inventive with their recipes – something that shouldn’t come as a surprise in the age of Instagram. Right now, sweetened potato desserts are bang on trend and perfect if you’re the type of person who indulges in potato-based products the rest of the year.
Mashed potato truffles might sound crazy (and to be fair, they probably are), but they’re simple to make. You just need four ingredients: leftover mash, vanilla extract, chocolate chips, and a coating, like cocoa or desiccated coconut, and that’s it!
For all your creatives out there, here’s another idea: potato sculptures. If you’ve ever noticed that potatoes seem to be a blank canvas, you’re not alone. Thousands of people worldwide love the fact that these tubers are so easily shaped into complex forms. To make a compelling potato sculpture, you’ll need a set of sharp tools, including knives and scoops. You’ll then take a sizable raw potato and whittle it down into a form of your choosing. Who knows, you could make anything – even another potato.
Finally, you can do your bit to tell people about the historical significance of the potato and the role it played in feeding multiple civilizations, not just the Irish. The potato is potentially a solution to sustainability issues and incredibly complete food. Please do your research and create a compelling article or blog post that explains why spuds are vital to our society. Then share it on your social media.
It may be nothing more than a simple tuber, but National Potato Day gives it a moment to shine!