Many of you might have the thoughts after reading my articles, why does this guy waste our time writing this stuff? That is very a reasonable question. Allow me to address that concern. I hope that maybe I have some knowledge that might help someone out in the decision making process of their gardening needs. I also believe that people need to smile a little more so I try to add a little humor. The last reason is I hate awkward silent moments and so I try to help people out by adding a few facts for conversation purposes.
Have you ever been out to dinner on a date, or maybe with a business associate and can’t think of any conversation that would be appropriate. I try to add some random knowledge in my articles so that you can maybe randomly state those facts during your conversations.
Since potatoes are often served at most meals in various forms, I thought in this article you could look down at your plate or box of fries and you could discuss potato facts. Potatoes are served at breakfast as hash browns. At lunch you can have a bag of chips with your sandwich. At dinner potatoes are served as mashed, baked, fried or au gratin. Everyone loves those cheesy potatoes. So every meal can give a clue to remember potato trivia
With the wide use of the potato, it is now the fifth largest crop in the world only beaten out by wheat, corn, rice and sugar cane. In the United States every state grows the potato commercially. Idaho and Washington lead the way in the production by volume of potatoes. The country that grows the most potatoes is China, which also grows the most rice and wheat. We beat them out with corn production.
The potato originally came from the Andes Mountains in Peru. It was transported to Europe during a time when famines were common on that continent. The potato was strongly instrumental in alleviating those famines. The historian William H. McNeill stated that the potato led to the rise of the Western World by his statement: “By feeding rapidly growing populations, the potato permitted a handful of European nations to assert dominion over most of the world between 1750 and 1950.”
When the potato was imported from Peru, Peruvian guano or securements from seabirds and bats were also brought back to Europe. This was the start or intense fertilization by the agriculture workers. The Colorado potato beetle led to the introduction of pesticides to control this pest. Many people believe the potato led the way to the green revolution in the 1940s and 1950 that used intense use of fertilizer and pesticides.
The Irish potato famine between 1845 and 1852 that caused a million deaths was caused by the potato crop failures during those years. A fungus like organism called late blight or potato blight caused the potatoes to quickly rot in storage. This demonstrated that the people of Ireland had already depended on this imported vegetable in their diet.
Because of the famine in Ireland many Americans saw an estimated 1.5 million Irish migrants entering the United States. This immigration was the cause of prejudice toward the Irish culture in America. The Kennedys rose out of these prejudices to become one of the most powerful families in the world.
After giving your dinner guest all this history it is time to talk about the biggest myth of potatoes. Potatoes are not roots. Just because they grow underground does not make them a root. They are actually stems tissue. The “eyes” on the potato are buds that produce stems when you plant them or leave them too long in the pantry. Only stems have buds. You will not find buds on the roots if you dig them up. So my kids were taught at an early ager to pass the potato stems during dinner time.
Since potatoes are stem tissue they are true vegetables. Vegetables are from the vegetative parts of plants. The term fruit is a mature ovary of the plant. This means that tomatoes and green beans are really fruit and not vegetables. So parents when kids don’t eat their beans you should yell at them for not eating their vegetables. But if they won’t eat their tomatoes you have to yell at them for not eating their fruit.
Those who plant potatoes in their gardens know that planting potatoes is unique. Where most crops are planted by seeds, the potato is planted by cutting the potato and using two or three eyes or buds to grow new plants.
It is interesting that this standard food of most burger establishments in the form of chips and fries also has a poisonous side to the plant. The green parts of the plant such as the leaves and above ground stems contain a toxin called solanine. The presence of chlorophyll or the green parts of the plant has this toxin to help in the defense of insects and diseases. So don’t eat potatoes that are starting to turn green.
It is rare that solanine will be lethal but it can cause vomiting, diarrhea and headaches. These are also symptoms of awkward times during a date.
Hope this article helps you out with conversation the next time you go out for dinner. Many of you might know that Idaho is considered the potato state. If this article intrigues enough that you need more information for conversation on the potato, Idaho also has a museum that is completely dedicated to the potato. This museum should add to anyone’s dinner conversation. On the way to Idaho stop and see the Spam museum in Minnesota.
Senior Horticulturist Chuck Martin is grounds manager of Whiting Forest.