Wednesday, March 23, 2016

In Praise of the Potato

Many of Irish descent planted potatoes on St Patrick's day, in hopes for a blessed crop. Long considered the most perfect food, it is cultivated globally, and the potato has been credited with saving people from the brink of starvation. The failure of the potato crops in Ireland created a famine causing thousands of people to flee that tiny nation in search of food... the Irish immigrants arrived on our shores due to loss of the potato.  

Oddly, the potato is native to Peru with the earliest archaeologically verified tuber remains found in the mountainous central region, dating back to 2500 BC.  Potatoes provided the principal energy source for the Inca Empire and its Spanish successor. In Bolivia and Peru in altitudes above 10,000, tubers exposed to the cold night air are made into chuño. Making chuño, which means frozen potato in Spanish, is a five day process during which the potatoes are frozen for three nights then subsequently exposed to bright sunlight each day. By the end of the process the chuno is chopped and may be stored for years with no loss of nutritional value. Chuño was discovered by the Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century and became the diet of the  native silver miners who were enslaved by the Spanish government. The potato was introduced first to Spain and cultivation traveled throughout all of Europe by yhe 1600's, reaching the American shore by 1621 when the Governor of Bermuda sent a chest of them to Jamestown, Virginia. 

Astounding potato news was released last week. A new scientific study is to begin in Lima Peru next month with NASA, the US space agency, aiding Lima's International Potato Center. (CPI) CIP is a nonprofit research facility that seeks to reduce poverty and achieve food security for millions globally. They have chosen the La Joya Pampas, a sector of the Atacama Desert in southern Peru, for an experiment in growing potatoes in harsh conditions. The La Joya Pampas are considered perhaps the driest place on earth... nothing grows and there is no insect or animal life. It was selected because it resembles Mars.

One hundred potatoes were selected for the experiment. Of those, 40 are native to the Andes Mountains, conditioned to grow in different ecological zones, to withstand sudden climate changes, and to reproduce in rocky, arid terrain. Sixty have been genetically modified to be immune to viruses and survive with little water and salt. The head of the experiment, Peruvian Julio Valdivia-Silva is concerned as our cropland disappears due population growth, millions may starve. He is hopeful that perhaps food may be farmed on Mars to feed our ever-growing population. *Vegetable news is rarely exciting, but this certainly is!

Further information on this lovely vegetable, which is truly a gift from God:

*A potato will draw poison from a wound. Michael had an bad toothache once and the dentist put an intricate drain in the wrong place. I had him put a slice of potato on the gum line above the abscess and after about 15 minutes it popped, and (grossly) filled his mouth with the rancid goo. After swishing with hydrogen peroxide, he was good to go.


Incas had many uses for the potato:

Placed raw slices on broken bones to promote healing

Carried them to prevent rheumatism

Ate with other foods to prevent indigestion.

Measured time: by correlating units of time by how long it took for potatoes to cook.


Other uses of the potato follow:

Treat facial blemishes by washing you face daily with cool potato juice.

Treat frostbite or sunburn by applying raw grated potato or potato juice to the affected area.

Help a toothache by carrying a potato in your pocket.

Ease a sore throat by putting a slice of baked potato in a stocking and tying it around your throat.

Ease aches and pains by rubbing the affected area with the water potatoes have been boiled in.

Place potato slices on the eyes after receiving welders flash to reduce pain and swelling.
*Photo Credit: The Smithsonian.

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