Hastings on Food

2015-08-27 06:01
Humans have been cultivating potatoes since around 10 000 BCE.
 Photo: supplied

Humans have been cultivating potatoes since around 10 000 BCE. Photo: supplied

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SALUTATIONS crunchy crisps. The humble potato is an English word that descends from the Spanish term patata. The word “spud” for a small potato, originated from the digging of the hole in the soil prior to planting.

It was first domesticated in southern Peru somewhere between 10 000 and 5 000 BC, with the earliest archaeological verification dating back to 2 500 BC.

The Spanish, after the inquisition, first introduced the potato to Europe, although it was only gradually embraced by farmers it soon became a staple food that was paramount to the escalation of the 19 century’s population.

In the United Kingdom, the Irish were the first to embrace the potato and it became their staple food. Men grew their thumbnails longer to assist with peeling them and an average Irishman in the late 1700s consumed five kilograms of potatoes a day.

The English, because of its association with the Irish, were reluctant to embrace the potato and one particular critic stated that eating the dirty root turned the Irish into dog-like creatures who were content to just sleep and reproduce, resulting in the potato being nicknamed “lazy root”, which is the original foundation of the term we use today when saying “couch potato”.

Sadly, due to the limited varieties introduced, the plants were vulnerable to diseases especially blight which spread quickly through poorer communities, in particular those of Ireland where the famine between 1845 and 1852 resulted in the deaths of some one million souls from mass starvation, who were solely reliant on potato crops for basic survival.

In addition, a further one million people immigrated, resulting in the overall population of Ireland diminishing by some 25%.

The massive level of trauma and deprivation suffered by the Irish famine soured the already strained relationship with the British monarchy which is, in many ways, still prevalent today.

The potato is a tuberous crop deriving from the perennial nightshade they yield abundantly with little effort and as long as the soil is moist and the climate is cool they form well into starchy tubers. Although potatoes do self-fertilise, there is a substantial amount of cross pollination from insects such as bumblebees.

Potatoes however, unlike grain that can be stored for several years, do not store well and are subject able to mould and rot and quickly spoil.

Today there are about 5 000 different varieties of potatoes worldwide. Three thousand are from the Andes alone, mostly in Peru, where the species is indigenous and were introduced elsewhere around four centuries ago. Today the largest producers are in eastern and central Europe that have the highest production per capita, as well as China and India who produce nearly one third of the world’s crop

Modern folklore tells stories of potatoes grumbling to each other beneath the ground requesting potato neighbours to roll over and give them space.

Successful farmers boast that if you order three kilograms of potatoes they flatly refuse saying they are not prepared to portion their product. The current world record for the largest potato stands at 3,8kg with a sweet potato standing at over 11kg.

While these potatoes are phenomenal, they don’t even scratch the surface of the world largest formidable pumpkin which stands at about 845kg.

Throughout history, there has been limitations surrounding the potato. In the 1500s European aristocrats felt that the ugly tuber was only suitable for consumption by the peasants and pig food, and potatoes were ranked in the same class.

In fact the French scholar Diederot stated in his 18th century book that the potato was responsible for flatulence, but what did it matter to the vigorous organs of the peasants.

Later on the French changed their minds so much so that it was declared that consuming potatoes was a patriotic duty and it was mandatory to plant them. Even Marie Antoinette wore potato flowers in her hair in an effort to make them fashionable and various cook books of the day were solely dedicated to the grand potato.

By the end of the 20th century French chef Robuchon was famous for his creation that we know today as mashed potatoes. It was argued by another chef that his was better as he used 50% butter and cream while Robuchon used only 25% butter and cream, and included olive oil.

Whatever the case, I firmly believe that the secret is in the quality of the potatoes. Here in South Africa it is believed that the first potatoes came from Holland, and potato cultivars are planted throughout the year in different regions and divided into three groups of which Vander plank is the most popular as its growing period is less than 100 days. The others are classified from 100 to 120 days and 120-plus.

Additionally potatoes have fewer calories and more nutrients than rice, pasta or bread.


Potato and chorizo croquettes


• 6 large potatoes peeled and diced

• 2 eggs whisked

• 120 grams melted butter

• 1 red onion chopped

• 200 grams of chorizo sausage chopped

• Rainbow pepper

• Khoisan sea salt

• chopped parsley

• chopped thyme

• snipped chives

• paprika

• cumin


• Cover potatoes with water and boil until soft, set aside

• Mash the potatoes

• Add the butter

• Add the whisked egg

• Season with the herbs and spices

• In a separate pan sauté the onion

• Add the chorizo and cook till crispy

• Add to the mash mixture

• Add 5 tablespoons of flour to make the mixture quite firm

• Using a piping bag without the nozzle pipe lines onto a tray

• Place in the freezer

• When chilled cut to preferred size and crumb, first in flour, then in beaten egg and then in a mixture of breadcrumbs and crushed cornflakes

• Deep fry

• Serve with dip of choice or smooth cottage cheese.

Funky mashed potatoes

• 1 kg potatoes

• Khoisan sea salt

• Rainbow pepper

• 100 ml cream

• 60 grams melted butter

• 50 grams smooth cottage cheese

• teaspoon of garam masala, optional

• 100 grams almonds

• dash lemon juice

• 1 red onion, chopped and sautéed

• handful of cooked peas

• 10 florets of cooked cauliflower

• 2 cooked carrots

• 4 cloves roasted garlic

• olive oil


• Cover the potatoes with cold water and boil till soft

• Remove and mash using a potato masher (never an electrical appliance as the potato turns to glue)

• Add the cream and butter and mix together

• Add the cottage cheese and mix further

• Season with the salt and pepper

• Keep warm

• Blend the almonds, red onion, vegetables, lemon juice and olive oil

• Add to the mash and mix through

• Add more cream and butter if necessary

• Garnish with coriander and/or snipped chives

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