Monday, April 21, 2008

The International Year of the Potato

This year's potato crop in our garden

The UN Has designated 2008 the International Year of the Potato. As wheat, corn, and rice prices soar, developing countries are turning more and more to potatoes as a staple foodstuff.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, "... it is ideally suited to places where land is limited and labor is abundant, conditions that characterize much of the developing world. The potato produces more nutritious food more quickly, on less land, and in harsher climates than any other major crop - up to 85 percent of the plant is edible human food, compared to around 50% in cereals."

Potatoes have long been a popular food in Europe, but this hasn’t always been the case. The potato, first discovered by the Spanish conquistadors during an exploration of Peru, was introduced into Europe in 1570. It was not greeted warmly. Due to the potato plant’s resemblance to the nightshade genus of plants, it was treated with suspicion, considered unfit for human consumption, and used as animal fodder.

Today, we understand the nutritional value of the humble spud, which provides starch, is rich in vitamin C, high in potassium, and is an excellent source of fiber. Prior to 1800, the English diet consisted primarily of meat, supplemented by bread, butter and cheese. Very few vegetables were consumed as they were regarded as nutritionally worthless, and potentially harmful.

It wasn’t until the late 18th century, largely due to food shortages following the Revolutionary Wars, that potatoes came into common usage in England. The potato’s popularity increased still further during the Industrial Revolution, when much of the country’s rural populace moved into crowded towns and cities. There they toiled in factories, working twelve to sixteen hour shifts, which left them little time or energy to cook a meal. Easily prepared potatoes became a staple foodstuff, and remain so today.

To learn more about The International Year of the Potato visit:

Potatoes Dauphinois


2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced.
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced.
1 cup shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese, (I didn’t have either so I used cheddar)
¾ cup of warm milk
2 tablespoons of melted butter. (And a little for greasing dish)
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese.
Fresh ground black pepper to taste.


  1. Pre-heat oven to 425°F.
  2. Grease an 11 x 7-inch baking dish with butter.
  3. Layer half the potatoes in the dish, add a layer onions, top with Gruyere, Swiss, (or cheddar) cheese, and a generous dash of black pepper.
  4. Layer remaining potatoes in dish, and pour in warm milk.
  5. Brush potatoes with melted butter, and sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top.
  6. Bake at 425°F for 30 minutes, reduce heat to 350°F and bake for a further 15-20 minutes until potatoes are browned.

Update. I read this on the news today:

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