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Pumpkin »« Potatoes: Maincrop

Potatoes New season

Solanum tuberosum


Description

New potatoes are one of the joys of spring. With their sweet flavour and firm texture, they’re a delicious addition to any dinner on those evenings when the sun is shining just that little bit longer.

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.

New potatoes should ideally be eaten as soon as possible, as they don’t keep well. They can turn green quite quickly above ground.

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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

New potatoes, which include varieties such as Jersey Benne, are best eaten steamed or boiled. They can just be cooked whole if small enough, or cut in half if slightly bigger.

Salad nicoise is a great way to enjoy new potatoes. Cook potatoes until tender, and while still warm toss with olive oil, shredded lettuce, black olives, tomato, cucumber, tuna or salmon, croutons, and chopped hardboiled egg. Grate or shave parmesan over the top.

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.



Pumpkin »« Potatoes: Maincrop

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