Monday, June 5, 2023

History of the Potato

 From Hackernoon:

Next to wheat no plant in our part of the world is of so much importance for food as the potato. Its use was not introduced into this country until toward the end of the eighteenth century. The first appearance of the potato among our people is a curious piece of history. Why should I not relate it to you? It will show you what noble efforts and perseverance are sometimes necessary to bring about the adoption, on the part of those wedded to blind routine, of the simplest, most natural idea, and one so rich in future possibilities.

The potato is native to South America; it came to us from the high plains of Colombia, Chile, and Peru. Its first appearance in Europe dates from 1565. A century and a half later the potato flourished in England. Its introduction into general use in France was slower. The first dish of potatoes, then a high-priced rarity, was served at the table of King Louis XIII in 1616.

The royal dish is to-day at the command of the poorest; but this was not effected without a good deal of trouble, as you will see. For a long time the American tuber remained in our country a simple object of curiosity to which were attributed injurious [103]properties, and which agriculture would have nothing to do with. Finally, toward the end of the eighteenth century a worthy man succeeded in overcoming these prejudices and popularized the culture of this valuable food plant. His name is Parmentier. Remember this venerated name, my friends; he who bore it banished famine by making the potato supply the deficiency of wheat.

Parmentier communicated his ideas to Louis XVI. ‘The potato,’ said he, ‘is bread already made and requiring neither miller nor baker. Take it just as it comes out of the ground and bake it in hot ashes or cook it in boiling water, and you will have a farinaceous food rivaling wheat. Poor land unfit for other crops will raise it, and it will henceforth relieve us of all fear of those terrible dearths that France has so often suffered in the past.’

Louis XVI listened to this proposal with eager attention, but the difficulty was to make others listen also. In order to interest the world of fashion in the culture of the disdained tuber the king appeared at a public festival one day with a large bouquet of potato blossoms in his hand. Curiosity was aroused at the sight of these white flowers tinged with violet and set off by the dark green of the leaves. They were talked of at court and in town; florists made imitations of them for their artificial bouquets; in ornamental gardens they were used for the borders; and as the surest way to royal favor the nobles sent [104]potatoes to their tenant farmers with orders to plant and cultivate them.

“Behold the potato fairly started on the right road!” interposed Jules. “It cannot fail to become popular now, under the protection of king and court. (Read more.)


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