WHAT ARE POTATOES?
Potatoes are tubers. A tuber is a fleshy, food-storing swelling at the tip of an underground stem, also called a stolon. Potatoes have white, brown, purple or red skin and white or golden flesh.
Indigenous to Central and South America, potatoes were probably first domesticated in Chile. They were discovered by Europeans when Pizarro destroyed the Incan empire in Peru and were brought back to Europe around 1570. From Spain they moved to England and Ireland it’s said that Sir Walter Raleigh introduced them in 1586, but they were popular by 1610.
Some, however, resisted them as a food for a long time. Until 1780, they were rigorously excluded from prudent French tables, as they were thought to cause leprosy. Devout Scotch Presbyterians refused to eat them because they weren’t mentioned in the Bible. In Prussia, King Frederick William I threatened to cut off the noses and ears of all peasants who refused to plant them. Russian peasants considered them unclean and un-Christrian, calling them Devil’s apples. In colonial Massachusetts, they were considered the spoor of witches.
Ireland adopted the potato first, and even made it the foundation of its national diet a fact that was to have terrible repercussions in 1845 when a late blight attacked the potato crop and caused the famine that was to send Irish emigres all over the world seeking a better life.
In France, potatoes were finally established during the famine following the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). Frenchman Antoine August Parmentier, who was fed potatoes in a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany, returned to France to find his countrymen starving. He set up potato-soup kitchens throughout Paris to assist the poor, and Louis XVI recognized his work by saying, “France will thank you some day for having found bread for the poor.” In fact, he is recognized in a most appropriate way by the famous potato soup Potage Parmentier. Interestingly, Ben Franklin dined at Parmentier’s home and was treated to course after course of potato-based dishes, up to and including a potato-based after-dinner liqueur.
HOW ARE POTATOES PRODUCED?
Potatoes grow from eyes which are pieces cut from seed potatoes. As potatoes grow they must be hilled when the plants are 20 to 30cm high. Hilling is done by covering the base of the plant with soil to prevent the potatoes from exposure to light which causes them to turn green. Before harvesting, potato vines are killed to allow the skin to set. A mechanical harvester is used to pick the potatoes. Potatoes need to be harvested at certain temperatures to maximize the length of time they can be stored. If the temperature is too warm, the pulp deteriorates before cooling can occur. If temperature is too cool, the potatoes are bruised during harvest.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE POTATO LEAVES THE FARM?
Potatoes are harvested from early summer through to late fall. Those harvested during the summer and early fall are trucked to on-farm packing operations or processors. At these facilities, the potatoes are washed, graded, packaged and distributed to buyers throughout UK. Those harvested in the fall are put into storage, and loads are removed and distributed to wholesalers and processors as the market demands. Approximately 40% of the main crop goes for processing, with the remaining 60% destined for the fresh market.
WHAT CHALLENGES DOES THE POTATO PRODUCER FACE?
Potato late blight and insect pests are the main concern for potato growers. A program is in place to track the occurrence of plant diseases and insect infestation.
WHO’S INVOLVED IN PRODUCING POTATOES?
Seed potato producer
Employees in processing plants
Serving Size: 1 medium potato (148g) %= Daily Value*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
Calories from Fat 0
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 0mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 26g 9%
Dietary Fibre 3g 12%
Vitamin A 0%
Vitamin C 45%
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