Potato -

There is difference of opinion as to the discoverer of the Potato, but authorities generally agree in describing it as native to South America. It was brought to Ireland by Sir John Hawkins in 1565; and to England by Sir Francis Drake in 1585 and by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1586, but it did not come into general use until the close of the eighteenth century. To-day in Europe and America, the only food crops which exceed it in value are wheat and rye. Germany heads the list as the greatest Potato-using country in the world, averaging 160 acres planted with potatoes to every 10,000 inhabitants, the United States following next with thirty-four acres, and Great Britain and Ireland with thirty-one acres. A considerable percentage of the German harvest is, though, devoted to industrial uses.

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the Potato as a food crop - it has played a prominent part in the improvement of agricultural conditions which has prevented the recurrence of the periodic famines of former ages.

The varieties under cultivation are constantly changing. A certain type will for several years lead the market as the most desirable product, only to gradually deteriorate in quality and eventually to be supplanted by another variety which will run a similar course of mediocrity, success and final failure. In this manner, many kinds which were popular years ago have become almost extinct.

New potatoes from Bermuda are received here during October and November and again about March. Florida generally sends its first supplies in February, but the date varies with the conditions of the season, sometimes being as late as April.

The following are simple and generally reliable tests for ascertaining the quality of potatoes without cooking:

Choose a sound Potato at random from the lot, paying no attention to its outward appearance, cut it into two pieces and examine the exposed surface. If it shows so much water or juice that a comparatively slight pressure causes it to fall off in drops, you may be sure it will be soggy after it is boiled. There must be a considerable amount of water, but not an excess. Then note the color - it should be yellowish-white. If a deep yellow, the Potato is not likely to cook well. Next rub the pieces together - a white froth, caused by the Starch content, will appear around the edges and upon the two surfaces. The more Starch, and consequently the more froth, the better the Potato; the less there is, the poorer it will cook. The strength of the starchy element can further be tested by loosing the hold upon one piece - if it still clings to the other, it is a very good sign. These are the experiments usually made by experts, and they are generally willing to buy potatoes which successfully stand the tests - but they are by no means infallible.

An exception to the color test is necessary in the case of some imported potatoes - which may be very yellow, yet of high quality.

Too much emphasis cannot be laid on the fact that the green color in potatoes which have grown too near the surface of the earth and have been affected by the sun, is an indication of the presence of an alkaloid poison called solanine. It is dangerous and renders them unfit for food. The same effect in a minor degree is produced by sprouting. If such potatoes are consumed, they should be sliced and placed in cold water an hour or two before cooking.

To keep potatoes in good condition, it is essential that they should be stored in a dark, cool, well-ventilated place. Excessive dampness should be avoided, but extreme dryness is almost equally bad, as it has a tendency to shrivel them. When the latter result is noticed, they may be packed and covered with sand, the latter being dampened occasionally. A sprinkle of lime over any that are disposed to rot, will act as a deterrent.

Reference has been already made to the importance of potatoes in the food supply of modern nations. It should though always be remembered that, alone, they are not by any means a satisfactory human diet on account of their overwhelming proportion of Starch. They should always be accompanied by other foods to supply the lack of protein (see FOOD VALUES). This lack has, apparently by intuition, always been supplied in those countries where they have been made the chief staple - the Irish, for example, consume quantities of milk; the Scotch, cheese and oatmeal in considerable amount, and the Germans, cheese and allied products. In England and America, the large per capita consumption of meat has supplied the greater part of the protein required.

To retain the highest amount of nourishment, potatoes should be cooked in their skins - so prepared, they have been found by analysis to be nearly twice as rich in potash salts as those peeled before cooking. The skins are easily removed before sending them to table. An exception is made for new potatoes, which should have their loose outer skins rubbed off with a cloth or stiff brush before cooking.

The first preparation should include the removal with a knife of all bruised or damaged parts, worm-holes, etc., and the careful cleaning of all dirt out of the "eyes" and from the rough parts of the skins by means of a brush and water, followed by rinsing in clean water and draining in a colander. If at all dry or shriveled, they may be advantageously left to soak for three or four hours in clean, cold water before cooking.

After cooking, potatoes should never be held in a covered dish, as thus contained they are liable to become sodden. The best method is to serve them in an open dish with a napkin over them - the napkin both retains the heat and absorbs the moisture.

In Europe, particularly Germany, special types of potatoes very high in Starch content, are cultivated for use in the manufacture of Alcohol - also known as Potato Spirit and Potato Brandy; Potato Flour, Potato Syrup and Starch.

Arround Potato in The Grocer's Encyclopedia

Potato Chips

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