Test Your Potato IQ!

Monday, June 14, 2010 | 0 comments »

By Elizabeth Brion

Potatoes are a fundamental part of American life these days. Available in thousands of varieties and prepared in dozens of ways, they're the second most consumed food in our culture, after dairy products. For a humble vegetable, the potato has an extremely colorful history—did you know it was once suspected of causing leprosy, syphilis, narcosis, and early death, and of destroying the soil in which it grew? Now we just suspect it of spiking blood sugar levels. Let's see what else you know about potatoes.

True or False?
  1. False: Potatoes originated in Ireland around 200 BC. The Symara Indians cultivated over 200 varieties of potatoes in Peru's Andean Mountains, 10,000 feet above sea level, more than 4,000 years ago.
  2. True: Potatoes were introduced to the French by a scientist who had been forced to subsist on them in a Prussian prison. Potatoes were used as hog feed in 1785, so Antoine-Augustine Parmentier's early attempts to convince people of their nutritional value were met with suspicion. But he had another idea. With the help of Louis XVI, he planted 50 acres of potatoes and stationed the king's guards around the field. Soon, the intriguingly valuable plants were being stolen behind the guards' backs and planted in private gardens. Potatoes quickly became a staple of the cuisine.
  3. False: Sir Walter Raleigh brought the potato to Ireland. This is a commonly believed myth, but the evidence suggests that the potato arrived on Spanish ships much earlier. The Raleigh story, in which he inadvertently makes the queen's entire court ill when a confused chef cooks the poisonous leaves rather than the roots, is decidedly more entertaining. You can see why people would go with that one.
  4. False: The first french fries served in the United States came from a Horn & Hardart automat in 1912. Thomas Jefferson, at an 1802 White House dinner, served "potatoes deep-fried while raw, in small cuttings." Recipes for what we now call french fries appear in American cookbooks as early as 1813.
  5. False: Austria and Prussia once went to war over potatoes. While the War of the Bavarian Succession is known as the Potato War, there's a stranger reason for that than you might think. The two sides spent most of the war stealing potatoes from each other. There was very little actual fighting. When the potatoes were gone, everyone went home. This cries out for a major film adaptation, don't you think?