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Potatoes: New season »« Peas

Potatoes Maincrop

Solanum tuberosum


Description

The humble spud is one of the most popular and versatile vegetables out there. On a cold winter’s night, there are few things more satisfying than a rich, filling stew atop a pile of perfectly cooked potatoes. And what’s fish without some chips on the side?

Potatoes grow as tubers underground and are a member of the nightshade family, which also includes eggplant and capsicum. There are numerous varieties of potatoes available, which depending on planting time are classed as either maincrop or early varieties.

With the growing popularity of low-starch, low-carbohydrate diets, potatoes have found their way out of a lot of health-conscious people’s diets, but there’s so much good stuff in potatoes it’s a shame to completely avoid them. Potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, potassium, and manganese. Like most vegetables, a lot of the nutrition is just under the skin, so where possible, don’t peel your spuds. Just give them a wash and a good scrub.

Usually you’ll get potatoes pre-bagged, but if you can buy them loose, choose ones that are firm and smooth, with no signs of decay or sprouting. Avoid any green ones; these may contain a toxin called solanine which can cause circulation and respiratory problems, along with headaches and diarrhoea.

Store your maincrop potatoes somewhere dark, cool and dry, never in the fridge. If you want to keep them for any length of time, transfer them from plastic into a netting bag, a box, or a flax kete.

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History

Potatoes come from the Andes of South America, and are believed to have been grown there for some 7,000 years. As one of the few things that would grow at those altitudes, it was a dietary staple for the people living in the mountains.

It wasn’t until the 16th century that people in the West got to know the potato, when they were brought to Europe. For a long time they were considered a lower-class food, and it wasn’t until just before the 19th century that it really gained acceptance, when the Irish adopted it as a source of plentiful, nutritious food. Within half a century, the Irish were so dependent on the potato that when it was almost wiped out by a blight, it devastated the country and led to the famous Irish Potato Famine.

The potato was introduced to Australasia in the 18th century by none other than Captain Cook.

Uses

Maincrop potatoes are generally divided into three categories: floury, waxy, and general purpose, which refer to the texture when cooked. Floury potatoes, such as Agria and Red Rascal, are well suited to baking and mashing, while waxy potatoes, such as Nadine, are best for boiling and putting into potato salads. Floury potatoes tend to be higher in starch if this is a consideration for you.

For a healthier Kiwi favourite, try making chips at home to go with your pan-fried fish. Cut up your potatoes – Agria are great – into chips and parboil for five minutes. When cooler, toss in olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake at 180-200° for 30-45 minutes until golden, turning a couple of times during cooking. For extra flavour, bake with a couple of sprigs of rosemary or sprinkle with garlic salt.

Facts

In 1995, the potato became the first crop to be grown in space, on the space shuttle Columbia.

In French, potato is pomme de terre, meaning ‘apple of the ground’.

The world’s largest potato was grown in Britain in September 2010, weighing in at a whopping 3.76kg.



Potatoes: New season »« Peas

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