by Lisa Giroday, Sandra Lopuch and Sam Philips | Who loves potatoes? We do, and their season in full force! While starch isn’t totally in vogue, this crop remains a staple worldwide, and late summer potatoes are so good freshly uprooted from the garden and made into a fresh potato salads to accompany your end of summer BBQ’s and beach picnics.
Potatoes, or Solanum tuberosum L., are actually a perennial in the nightshade family, but we harvest the tubers annually. The name comes from the Spanish patata, which is a compound of the Taino batata (sweet potato), and the Quecha papa (potato). They’re indigenous to the Andes; humans having domesticated them in southern Peru and northwest Bolivia between 8000 and 5000 BC. Today, they’re the world’s fourth largest food crop (after corn, wheat, and rice), with 1/3 being grown in China and India. There are about 5,000 varieties of potato, with 3,000 of them being found in the Andes alone, mainly in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and Colombia. Wild potato species can be found throughout the Americas, from the US to southern Chile. It’s too bad that we only see a few varieties of potato in the grocery store. But if you go to the Farmers Market on the weekend, swing by the Helmer’s Organic stand and get acquainted with their wide array of potato varieties, shapes, colours, and flavours.
After the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, the potato was introduced to Europe. By the 19th century, after a slow but steady adoption of the now staple tuber, potatoes played a huge role in the population boom in Europe. Alas, due to the lack of diversity in the varieties introduced (do we ever learn?), potatoes became more susceptible to diseases like blight, and this resulted in massive crop failures, the most consequential of which leading to the disastrous “Irish Potato Famine” of 1845.
Potatoes grow really when in the Lower Mainland, and they’re ready right now. And while they aren’t typically considered to be the healthiest of vegetables, did you know that just one medium-sized sucker will provide you with 45% of your daily vitamin c needs and 18% of your daily potassium? It doesn’t hurt that they’re super tasty, too. Nor variety of cooking methods and presentations is endless.
So what are you waiting for? Go get some freshly harvested potatoes – boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew – or make a tasty frittata for Sunday brunch!