You could say that the potato changed the world … and Smithsonian made a case for that in this detailed history of the root vegetable.
The potato is native to the Americas and was domesticated in Peru 7,000–10,000 years ago. Eventually, the Spanish brought the curious tuber back to Europe after conquering the New World in the 1500s.
But the potato met with resistance initially; Europeans generally thought this humble root was beneath them, and possibly dangerous because it belongs to the nightshade family. It was largely relegated to the animal feed bin.
Enter a Frenchman, Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, who advocated in a big way for the human consumption of the potato in the 1770s. An imaginative man, he embarked on potato publicity stunts, including protecting his potato patch with armed guards who “accepted” bribes from neighbors to “steal” the plants and hosting potato-centric dinner parties for the likes of Benjamin Franklin. In 1789 he wrote a Treatise on the Culture and Use of the Potato, Sweet Potato, and Jerusalem Artichoke, which was “printed by order of the king.” A nice endorsement. Too bad it came on the eve of the French Revolution.
To this day, many potato dishes in French cuisine bear the name of Parmentier in his honor. The dish hachis Parmentier is basically a shepherd’s pie; potage Parmentier is puréed leek and potato soup; and pommes Parmentier is diced potatoes fried in butter with bacon, onions, garlic, or herbs.
Potato Recipes We Love
The pomme de terre pairs very well with that other denizen of the earth, the truffle, as our recipe for Black Truffle Garlic Mashed Potatoes demonstrates. You cannot use too much butter in this one. Try it for Thanksgiving this year and know true truffled happiness.
Our Truffled Hasselback Potatoes with Ham Crisps are crisp on the outside with creamy centers. It takes a little effort to make all those fine slices, but it’s worth it. These accordion-style potatoes make a showstopping side dish.
Did You Know?
It is estimated that the potato was responsible for a quarter of Europe’s population growth between 1700 and 1900.
French fries were introduced to the U.S. when Thomas Jefferson served them in the White House during his Presidency of 1801-1809.