While Vincent van Gogh’s paintings were not popular during his lifetime, they have since then become very popular. The work which he considered his finest was De Aardappeleters, or The Potato Eaters. This is an oil painting executed in April 1885 in Nuenen, Netherlands. This work which hangs in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is considered by those who know to be one of his greatest masterpieces.
28 May is World Hunger Day and PotatoesSA are wanting people to focus on how potatoes can make a difference to the more than 14 million people who suffer from hunger in South Africa each day. Oh, and to those who are not worried about where our next meal is coming from.
Potatoes are the world’s fourth most important crop after wheat, rice and maize. They provide bulk on the plate. Bulk is what makes us full. Potatoes have the edge over rice, wheat, and maize, in that order, in that potatoes are, before being peeled, full of vitamins and minerals (especially Vitamin C and potassium). Nutritionists encourage people to eat baked, boiled or stewed potatoes in their jackets with wise protein combinations, as part of a sustainable meal plan. It must be remembered that the 14 million people suffering from hunger are simply not overweight and dealing with the same lifestyle diseases that overweight, overfed Type 2 diabetics like me face.
Vincent van Gogh wrote of the family he portrayed in his painting, The Potato Eaters, “that the family portrayed were the peasant farmers, the de Groots, deliberately chosen because they were coarse and ugly, so that people would get the idea that these folk tilled the land themselves, speaking of honest, manual labour and having a wholly different way of life from ours – civilized people.” Prejudices against the poor are deep and have a long history.
The humble potato has an interesting history. They were first cultivated by the Inca in Peru around 8,000 BC to 5,000 B.C. Over 4,000 varieties of native potatoes grow in the Andean highlands of Peru, Boliva, and Ecuador, well adapted to the harsh conditions that prevail in the high Andes, at altitudes ranging from 3,500 to 4,200 meters.
In 1536 Spanish Conquistadors conquered Peru, and finding the potato to be palatable food, carried them back to Europe to Europe where they were cultivated in northern Spain. Sir Walter Raleigh introduced potatoes to Ireland in 1589 on the 40,000 acres of land near Cork. The rest of Europe was initially a bit suspicious and it took nearly four decades for the potato to spread to the rest of Europe.
In France, King Louis XIV had a feast consisting of only potatoes served to him by Parmentier in 1767. Benjamin Franklin was then the US ambassador to France and was present at the meal. Thereafter potatoes became popular in France.
Agriculturalists in Europe found potatoes easier to grow and cultivate than other staple crops and potatoes contained most of the vitamins needed for sustenance, and they could be provided to nearly 10 people for each acre of land cultivated. Because there was only one type of potato being grown, the 1840 outbreak of potato blight wiped out the potato crop in many countries in Europe. Ireland, which farmed potatoes extensively, was hit hardest, with about one million people starving and another one million emigrating from Ireland, mostly to the USA and Canada.
Potatoes arrived in the USA in 1621 when the Governor of Bermuda sent chests containing potatoes and other vegetables to Jamestown Governor, Francis Wyatt. Early (pre-famine) Irish immigrants established permanent potato patches in 1719 and the crop spread. Idaho is America’s largest producer of potatoes.
In South Africa, the potato was probably brought to our shores in the 1600s by Dutch seafarers where they grew vegetables for replenishing ship supplies (the Gardens in Cape Town were founded for this very purpose).
Today there are 532 large farms, mainly in Limpopo, Eastern Free State, Western Free State and the Sandveld, growing potatoes, and they produce about 400 000 tonnes of potatoes every year. South Africans consume about 30 kilograms of potatoes each year, mostly as French fries (slap chips) or crisps. The potato farming industry provides about 50 000 jobs.
There are three main types of potatoes, waxy which include Mondial, Fabula and BP13. These have a high moisture, low starch content. They stay firm when cooked. These are useful for making potato salad and other dishes where you don’t want the potato to break up and they can’t be used for making mashed potatoes. Floury potatoes like Caren, Darius and Avalanche, have a low moisture content and a high starch content. They make the best crisps, chips and roast potatoes too. Then we get the type most often found in our supermarkets which can be used for all cooking methods and these are both waxy and floury and include cultivars such as BP1, VDP, Fianna, Valor, and Sifra.
The biographical book and movie of the life of Angus Buchan, Faith Like Potatoes, likens Christian faith to potatoes. You plant them, cover them with soil, then pray for rain. You can’t see the fruit of your labours growing, but they incubate in the ground, silent and unseen. You hope and pray for the harvest. When it comes in, it is good.
Potatoes make excellent cost wise and delicious meals. Here are the three dishes I use most often in my home. Potatoes cooked in their skins, baked or boiled are delicious when served slightly smashed with cottage cheese and black pepper. Potatoes prepared as part of a vegetable stew with cabbage, tomatoes and onions make a nourishing and filling main meal, especially when served with rice or maize. One of my favourites is an onion curried sauce into which leftover potatoes are tipped then heated. This was called “Bombay potatoes” in our household when I was growing up.
Potatoes South Africa suggest topping the baked or boiled potatoes in their skins with spinach and chicken, both South African favourites, and this certainly looks very appealing.
So let us all incorporate potatoes into our diets.