Want Fries with That? (“You say potato…”)

friesNo food can afford a more decisive proof of its nourishing quality, or of its being peculiarly suitable to the health of the human constitution.”

~ Adam Smith

We sat in a circle holding our fists in front of us and she circled us singing, “one potato, two potato,” etc. and bumping our fists with each count. It continued and you had to put a fist down each time you were bumped. She continued until someone had both fists down, meaning that they had won (or maybe lost?) whatever the goal of the game was.

Another game involved seeing who had the ‘hot potato’ when our countdown ended. We tossed the ball back and forth, trying to time it such that we weren’t stuck with it at the end, looking like we were parodying the cartoon characters that juggle a burning object from hand to hand

In those days, potatoes were as much a part of a child’s play as part of our meals. We looked forward to eating out when you could get French fries — back then they were more like today’s steak fries. It was a few years before McDonald’s-style fries were available, but when they hit, they hit big! Of course, nowadays fries are a staple of life and represent most teens’ first jobs.

Potatoes are ubiquitous, but according to Gwynn Guilford, “As the late historian William H. McNeill argues, the surge in European population made possible by the potato ‘permitted a handful of European nations to assert domination over most of the world between 1750 and 1950’… When brought back to Europe, potatoes weren’t an easy sell at first. Unlike the other important New World crop, maize, their appeal wasn’t immediately obvious. At first, the European upper class hailed potatoes as aphrodisiacs. (This explains why Shakespeare’s perpetually horny buffoon Falstaff bellows, “Let the sky rain potatoes!” [Merry Wives of Windsor Act V scene 5]).”

Potatoes are common as a main dish and ingredient in a whole array of casseroles, stews, soups and frittatas. But they are best as a starchy side dish:

  • Baked potato – with butter, salt and pepper, or maybe add some sour cream or cheddar cheese, and top with crumbled bacon.
  • Mashed potatoes – with butter, cream and maybe a touch of garlic or shredded cheese; add gravy as desired.
  • Scalloped potatoes – baked in butter and onions, with a creamy sauce.
  • Fried potatoes – ranging from home fries sliced with a little oil or bacon grease, to McDonald’s style French fries with catsup (or maybe ketchup), to crispy and greasy hash browns. Add gravy or cheese curds as desired.
  • Potato salad – hot or cold, mayo or mustard, chunky or smooth, onion or not, sweet or dill pickles, peel on or off.

As a child, every school day at noon, my wife’s mother Lily stepped out of her school in her English village to meet her mother who brought her a baked potato, still hot from the oven. It warmed her hands and provided her only lunch. It must have worked, since Lily lived into her 90’s.

Per Gwynn Guilford, “Potatoes were also vastly more nutritious (than European grains). A single acre planted with potatoes and the milk of one cow could feed an entire family, providing the all necessary vitamins and micronutrients for a healthy diet. They’re rich enough in vitamin C that they helped end rampant scurvy throughout the (European) continent.”

Potatoes were a superfood when brought back from the New World. They changed lives for a lot of people and changed world cultures. Of course, the mono-cultural existence of the Irish had a foreseeable outcome: the great potato famine. But that also resulted in a huge migration to the New World that powered the settlement and development of our country.

Nutritious, versatile, and easy to store, potatoes are a wonder food. An everyday food, potatoes are magic and they still make us wonder, “I wonder how I can eat so many of these fries.”

Additional information:

Gwynn Guilford, The Global Dominance of White People is Thanks to the Potato, December 8, 2017; reproduced by Katherine Martinko, in TreeHugger, December 12, 2017

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