We know it’s probably been marked in your calendar for a while - but in the rare case that you’ve forgotten, guess what - yesterday was National Potato Day! Any excuse to eat potatoes - we’re IN!
To celebrate this momentous annual event, we’ve put together a selection of our favourite potato-based facts and stories, including how potatoes ended up in space, and where the name “french fries” came from.
So let’s get to the root of things - and start with botanical origins. Did you know potatoes evolved from “nightshade” a plant that developed into potatoes, tobacco, chilli peppers and tomatoes, roughly 350 million years ago? If that’s news to you, keep reading for some more incredible facts!
A GIFT TO THE QUEEN
During the years of 1000AD - 1500AD the Incas, with their extensive knowledge of agriculture, perfected the growing and cultivation of potatoes. They labelled it the “food of the people” as it was a staple part of everyone's diet – in fact, believe it or not, the concept of “time” was measured by the Incas according to how long it would take to cook a potato!
In 1532, Spain invaded South America and ended the Inca reign. Amongst the natural riches, that the Spaniards brought back to Spain, several “new world” foods made the trip overseas, including chocolate, tequila and of course, potatoes.
There are several variations to the history of how potatoes made their way to Ireland, some say they floated ashore after a Spanish ship sunk while others say Sir Walter Raleigh, a British explorer, brought them back with him. Regardless, in 1589, Sir Walter Raleigh planted potatoes in his estate then offered them to Queen Elizabeth I, who threw a massive feast to celebrate this newly discovered vegetable.
Royalty was so fascinated by this new vegetable that even Queen Marie Antionette of France would wear headdresses made from potato flowers!
FROM HERO TO ZERO
As the population in Europe rapidly grew, so did their need for food. Many farmers struggled to meet the increase in demand; this, plus occasional poor growth in crops led to a shortage of food for many. This is where the potato swooshed into the rescue!
As potatoes were introduced to Ireland, there was an immediate increase in their popularity and demand. An acre of potatoes would be enough to feed a family, cattle and would leave enough left over to sell for cash.
Excellent news, right? Not quite...
Due to the lack of genetic diversity, the potatoes grown in Ireland were vulnerable to disease, leading to the potato blight in the early 1800s. Known as the “Great Famine” the large loss in crops, caused many Irish and European citizens to lose their lives to starvation and disease between the 1800s and late 1900s.
OUT OF THIS WORLD
You know your potatoes are past their best (to eat) when they start growing those extra bits on the outside; these little chunks are better known as stem tubers. During winter, potatoes flowers and leaves die due to the cold weather, however, these tubers can survive the harshest of winters underground - by storing nutrients inside them. These then grow into new shoots and flowers.
How Does This Relate To Space?
Growing food in space has been on NASA’s radar for years, the question was “where should we start?” With high carbohydrate content and tubers that can help survive harsh conditions and low light requirements, potatoes were the perfect solution.
By combining Chinese agricultural techniques and NASA technology, potatoes were the first vegetable to grow in space in 1995!
THE FRENCH DILEMMA
We all love a delicious portion of french fries with a cheeky burger as a weekend treat However have you ever questioned the name?
The truth is, they aren’t really French at all. French fries were in fact created in Belgium in the late 1600s, where villagers living in Meuse often fried the fish they would source from the nearby river.
There was a catch, however (no pun intended!), when winter came, the river would freeze over, meaning no fish could be caught. This is where the humble potato enters the story. These villagers would cut the potatoes and fry them in the same way they would do the fish. So this was how the first batch of french fries was born!
American soldiers based in Belgium during the First World War were introduced to this delicious dish. As French was the official language of the Belgian army, the nickname “French Fries” was given to this delicious gift.
And there we have it, the rich history behind one of the world’s most loved vegetable. We hope you’ve learnt something new and fascinating today - crowning you a true potato connoisseur!
If you’re in the mood for some potato inspiration - we’ve got plenty of crisps on the BoroughBox website such as these...
Fairfields is a family-run business that has been operating in East Anglia for three generations. They harvest potatoes, maize and rye on beautiful farmland across the Colne Valley just north of Colchester in Essex. Fairfields farms are BRC (Grade AA) accredited and they grow unique special varieties of crisping potatoes which are hand cooked on the farm to the highest possible standards.
Gourmet crisps made in Spain for over 80 years, the finest potatoes cooked in olive oil then slightly salted. No additives; gluten free. A delicious, natural crisp.