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Thank you King Edward            

               February 2009

THANK YOU KING EDWARD

All about potatoes

 

King EdwardsPotatoes must be one of most undervalued foods. They play such a main role in so many traditional dishes, they are easy to grow and are in plentiful supply, they are cheap and come in lots of different varieties, and they can be cooked in so many different ways. On top of that, they are even good for us!!!

The official name for the humble potato is solanum tuberosum and they are native to South America, especially in the high areas of the Andes Mountains. There is evidence that they have been cultivated in Chile from at least 5000BC and they still grow wild all over South America.

 

Most people have heard that Sir Walter Raleigh introduced the potato into Europe in 1586 but this may not be true. Some reports say the Spanish introduced the tuber directly into Spain from South America; other reports indicate it was Raleigh’s assistant, a Thomas Hariot, who showed the first interest in the potato and included a specimen in his official report.

Whoever was responsible, potatoes steadily grew in popularity and today it is amazing to think of how people lived before they had access to this wonderful tuber.

In the past potatoes have been a staple food for many people and they contain a surprisingly high level of essential nutrients, for instance a medium size potato will provide over 40% of your required daily Vitamin C intake. Potatoes also include protein, potassium, B vitamins such as thiamine and riboflavin and even some iron and calcium.

From its small beginning, today there are thousands of different varieties of potatoes grown around the world, including nearly 80 varieties grown in the UK. They are grown for different uses and flavours and they can also be categorised according to their season and when they are harvested. There are three main potato seasons in a year; new potatoes or earlies, second earlies and then maincrop potatoes.

New potatoes, such as Maris Bard or Rocket, are planted in winter ready for harvesting in spring or early summer. Second earlies are planted just a little later to keep the supply going throughout the summer months. Maincrop, which include the more famous varieties such as King Edward or Maris Piper, are planted around April and harvested in late summer or early autumn when their skins are firm. These are the potatoes that traditionally see us through the winter months.

It is worth experimenting with different potatoes and really being aware of the differences. Many of us will already know the top salad favourite Charlotte, with its moist texture, and the lovely large King Edwards, perfect for chips and mash. But how many of us have tried a Roseval, with its slightly reddish skin and Mediterranean flavour, or a waxy Ratte with its nutty taste?

If you fancy becoming a potatonista, you will need to try and tick off a tasting of a wide range of the 80 or so varieties cultivated in the UK. These include Accord, Anva, Belle de Fontenay, Cara, Carlingford, Duke of York, Estima, Fianna, Harmony, Kerr’s Pink, Marfona, Nadine, Osprey, Rooster and even the unlikely sounding Wilja (a yellow skinned fairly dry potato that is ideal for mashing).

Buying fresh potatoes is important. Go continental and pick and inspect each potato before buying it. The potato should be firm and smooth, avoid ones with wrinkled or withered skins and also any potatoes which have green shoots or “green” bruising showing.

Once home, don’t keep the potatoes in a plastic bag. Instead pop them into a cloth bag or a bag made of natural fibre and then pop them into the bottom of a cupboard where it is cool, dark and airy. Don’t keep potatoes in the fridge, they will loose their flavour.  Also, don’t keep them next to strong smelling items such as garlic or onions.

Finally, get rid of the myth that potatoes are fattening! Potatoes are naturally low in fat, containing only 100 calories per medium potato. The good thing is that they also give you a nice full feeling, meaning you are less likely to overeat or indulge in more unhealthy foods after your main course.

For more information why not have a look at the Potato Council.

 


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