Spuds - The Humble Potato

Fact is, the humble potato has an inordinately important influence on human history. It was Francisco Pizarro and his Conquistadors who came upon it in the mountains of Peru, where the tuber had been cultivated for some 7,000 years . By 1570 it had made its way across the Atlantic to Spain, and from there to the rest of Europe. The Spaniards used the potato for their ships' stores since it was hardy, easy to store and had great nutritional value. The slave workers in the silver mines of the New World subsisted almost entirely on the product.

By the 1780s potatoes were prominent everywhere in Europe, and especially in Ireland, where it became the definitive crop. This was to have a severe and lasting effect on the Irish when in the mid-1800s a crop failure brought about the Great Potato Famine which would cut the population in half through starvation and immigration, mainly to America.

The potato was introduced to North America when English colonists took it back across the Atlantic to Virginia. Today, the potato is a common staple in the western diet. Still, for most of us, it's usage is fairly simply: mainly as french fries or topped with butter and sour cream. What we forget is how versatile this tuber really is. Below are some quick and easy ways to prepare the humble potato other than grandma's mashed potato salad.

Au Gratin Stuffed Potatoes: Wash, scrub and dry 6 potatoes. With an apple corer remove a cylinder from the center of each potato, and fill each cavity with 1/2 pound of your favorite cheese. Seal ends with tiny pieces of cylinders which have been removed, and bake at 350 degrees until tender (45-50 minutes).
American Kedgeree: Brown 1 chopped onion in olive oil. Add powdered curry to taste, salt, pepper, and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Cook for 5 minutes. Add 2 cups diced cooked potatoes, 2 cups cooked kidney beans and whites of 2 hard-cooked eggs. Cook until heated through; and cover with grated or sieved egg yolks. Top with 1 cup sour cream and 1 tablespoons minced pimento, and serve.
Cream of Potato and Leek Soup: Cook 3 peeled and diced potatoes along with 2 diced leeks, for about 20 minutes. Place in a food processor or blender. Add 1 cup chicken bouillon, 1/2 tablespoon butter, salt and white pepper to taste, and 1 1/2 cups light cream. Reheat and serve garnished with chives or paprika
Potato Dumplings: Mix 1 cup mashed potatoes, 1 cup flour, 4 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoons butter, and 1/2 cup milk. Roll out into 1/2-inch thickness. Cut dough with as biscuit cutter or form dough into 2-inch dumplings. Place in a greased steamer over boiling water. Cover closely and steam for 12 minutes. Makes about 12 dumplings.
Lyonnaise Potatoes: Saute 1 minced onion in olive oil. Add 2 cups diced boiled potatoes (they should be slightly underdone for best results). Add potatoes to onions, plus salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the potatoes are brown, being careful not to break. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley, and serve.
Sweet Potato Croquettes: Combine 2 cups cooked mashed yams, 1 beaten egg, 2 tablespoons butter, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon minced parsley, and 1/2 of a grated small onion. Mix well and form into croquettes. Roll in 1 beaten egg combined with 3 tablespoons milk. Then roll again in bread crumbs. Fry in hot deep vegetable oil until golden brown. Makes about 8 croquettes.
Salmon Cakes: Combine 6 cooked chopped potatoes, 2 cups canned flaked salmon, and 1 chopped green pepper. Shape into small cakes and cook in vegetable or olive oil until brown.
Serve with tarter sauce and parsley.
Potato Canapes: Spread strips of dried beef with mustard, place a spoonful of mashed potatoes at one end, and broil. Fasten with a toothpick and broil. Serve as hot appetizers.
Puffy Potato Omelet: Combine 3 eggs and 1 cup mashed potatoes until there are no lumps. Add 1 small chopped onion, 1 teaspoon minced parsley, salt and pepper to taste, and 3 tablespoons cream or milk. Transfer to a greased frying pan or baking dish and bake in moderately slow oven (325 degrees) until brown. Turn and fold onto a platter, and serve.
Marinated Potato Salad: Mixed 4 cups diced cooked potatoes with 1 minced onion, salt to taste and 1/2 teaspoon paprika. Marinate in French dressing for 1 hour. Chill. When ready to serve add 3 diced hard-cooked eggs, 2 tablespoons minced parsley and enough mayonnaise to moisten. Serve on crisp lettuce, and garnish with tomato wedges and gherkins.
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