The Potato Alphabet: 26+ Reasons to Respect the Humble Potato
Potatoes are a wild and wonderful edible tuber that is associated with fame and famine, culinary delight and demonization. In this article I will use the alphabet to catalog a brief encyclopedic excursion through the diverse and dynamic landscape of the humble potato.
The original potato is written to have originated in Peru. Today there are over 4,000 varieties of the native potato-- widely embraced as the "Irish" or "white potato" to distinguish it from the native African yam, or sweet potato, which is a member of the morning glory family (yes, like redoubtable bind weed).
The "Irish" potato and its ilk are from the Nightshade family, that includes peppers and tomatoes. As you can see in the above photo, there are many colored varieties that have often been the result of genetic cross-breeding with the native potatoes of other plants or cultivars. When I refer to 'potato' in this article, I am referring to close varieties of this bulbous tuber commonly grown from far north on the American continents to the far south, and that has been adopted and cultivated in other continents.
In 100g of steamed potatoes, you’ll find just 100 calories, no fat, no sodium, no cholesterol, and no gluten. Instead, you’ll get nearly half your daily dose of vitamin C, more potassium than a banana, and plenty of vitamin B6, fiber, magnesium, and antioxidants.— Hazel Flight "Millenials are killing the potato..."
Apples of the Earth - how the French see potatoes, or les pommes de terre
Baked potatoes - a popular way to cook potatoes. See the Baked Potato Bar following.
Blintzes- a Jewish treat. A soft crepe is spread with a variety of sweet or savory fillings-- delicious potato and onion are a simple Kosher mix. Sometimes they are rolled up like a burrito and sometimes they are eaten "open face".
Boiled potatoes - another common way of preparing potatoes. Sometimes boiled potatoes are mashed but frequently they are just eaten as is, soft little lumps you can mash with your own fork. Boiled potatoes can be used in potato salads or a Jigg's Dinner (see under J below).
The Baked Potato Bar
Not your mother's baked potatoes....
Casserole- Must be at least a thousand variations on the one-dish oven-baked potato dish. My favorite is scalloped potatoes.
Chips- The British eat their soft little fried potato sticks with fish (as in fish and chips). In Canada, we often call the little sticks "fries" because we have been influenced by all the American fast food places to do so, and call what the British call "crisps", chips. In French Canada (Montreal, for example), poutine is a very popular version of the 'chips with gravy' that I remember ordering as a kid.
Colcannon- or Irish Mashed Potatoes with leak, kale or cabbage. A favourite dish on St. Patrick's Day across the world, to memorialize the potato as the staple of Irish immigrants to the New World. Delicious in any case! Recipe here.
Diet- There is a misconception that potatoes are a fat-inducing vegetable and must be dropped off the diet. While they might be rated as "high glycemic" foods, if eaten with fibre foods, the glycemic element is counteracted. If fats, especially animal fats, are eliminated or reduced, the potato itself provides energy, a lot of essential nutrients, and a pleasant eating experience.
Dig- For anyone who has grown up with a vast garden of potato plants, "dig" is not a folksy way of expressing liking someone. Dig means getting out in any kind of weather at harvest time for the back-breaking job of bringing the little subterranean fruit up out of its hiding place.
Dumb as a sack of potatoes- This phrase has apparently branched off to include the use of "spud" as referring to someone who isn't very bright. Unfair to the potatoes, I think, since they are excellent electrical conductors and quite possibly have a complex system of communication with each other that we humans are not advanced enough to know about.
Energy- Besides providing energy through nutrition, the liquid in the potato can act as an electrolyte and generate electricity between two electrodes. My husband remembers this as a classic science experiment in his school days. Check out how this works:
How To Make Your Own Potato Battery
French Fries- What Americans call the British "chips". The origins seem to indicate that 'french fries' are not an invention of the French, but of French-speaking Belgians. When one of their rivers was frozen solid so they could obtain no fish, they fried up their potatoes instead. French fries and crisps have much to answer to. As fat- and salt-laced potato parts, they actually do encourage weight-gain.
Fudge- I came across a recipe for potato fudge in a cookbook I brought back to my sister-in-law from Newfoundland where the potato is king. I have never tried potato fudge, but following is a recipe for potato candy:
Ginocchi- An Italian potato-wheat dumpling or pasta. There are only 4 ingredients in the little pillows: flour, salt, potato, and an egg. Ginocchi is generally eaten after the appetizer, or sometimes as a main course. Its main job is to allow a resting place for the rich sauces served at the meal.
Hashbrowns- Grated potato fried up for cowboy breakfasts. Non-cowboys now eat them as well.
Industry- The potato has been eyed by Big Industry and the starch is now used as a strong adhesive in the lumber industry. In the paper industry, the starch is used as a 'filler' in paper products, and as a glue. Potato starch is cheaper and stronger than chemical glues commonly used in making plywood products.
Irish- the common white potato became known as the Irish potato when it made its way as a staple of Irish immigrants in America. Sometimes the failed potato crops in Ireland are blamed for the heartache that attended them as immigrants. Some say that the Irish were responsible for their own nasty situation since they did not have a diverse diet and their dependence on the potato alone was their downfall. Many modern scholars point out that the Irish grew several crops-- cabbage, turnips, beans and peas, wheat-- and that it was largely because of the oppression by the gentry landlords of the time who turned entire families out of their shanties, forcing them off the land, and not only the failed food crops.
Jiggs' Dinner- or "boiled dinner," is a Newfoundland meal usually made up of salted beef, boiled potatoes, turnips, carrots, onions, and often pease pudding. A traditional Maritime comfort food.
Kartoffel is the German word for potato
Knives, Forks and Spoons- Now available made from potato starch, and fully biodegradable. You can now have your potato and eat it, and eat with it too!
Kugel- A Jewish potato (or noodle) casserole made at Passover.
Ladkas, or ladkes- Potato pancakes with a Jewish tradition. There are potato pancakes in many other cultures as well. The British liked their potato pancakes because they resembled fish when they were being fried up.
Mash(ed) Potatoes- The way many people prefer their potatoes prepared. The boiled potatoes are drained of water and milk/nutmilk, salt, and butter is added and mashed together or whipped up with a beater. Do not use a blender as it quickly renders the potatoes into a dense, glue-y mass. Mashed potatoes are generally served on special and holiday dinners.
McDougallers- Not an actual religious sect, but followers of the "starchivore diet" recommended by Dr. John A. McDougall in his book, "The Starch Solution: Eat the Foods You Love, Regain your Health and Lose the Weight for Good." McDougall attributes his good health to basing his diet on potatoes, the plant connected to his ethnic background (Irish). He recommends that people return to their starch-based roots, i.e., rice, whole-grain breads, corn, potatoes, and cut out what he sees as harmful nutritional ingredients, such as fats, dairy, and eggs. He contends that a healthy vegan diet contains all the nutrients necessary to live a long healthy life.
Mr. Potato Head- the toy Mr. Potato Head was distributed by the Hasboro toy company in 1952. Originally the toy was plastic parts with pin-ends that could be stuck into a real potato. Eventually, parents complained about the rotting potatoes and Hasboro produced a complete plastic Mr. Potato Head in 1964.
Nachos- Using your favorite recipe and ingredients for regular nachos, substitute the bed of corn chips for a bed of sliced fried, boiled or roasted potato rounds.
One Potato Two Potatoes - a children's counting song from the 70s, perhaps the only song written about a potato? Released in 1964, it predated "Baby Beluga," also known for crazy-making repetition.
Perogies- A pocket dumpling from Eastern Europe that is delicious with a stuffing of boiled potato and fried onions. I wrote up a recipe for gluten-free perogies here.
Pizza Crust- Substitute grated potatoes, cheese and egg for the flour and yeast. See the video below. There is even a mashed potato crust recipe. Gluten-free.
Printing- Cut designs into a sliced potato, cover with paint, and stamp.
Potato Crust Pizza
Question- Is the potato mentioned in the Bible? (Answer: No)
Raw- Do not eat raw potatoes. They do not have mouth appeal (i.e., they taste yucky) and an uncooked potato contains enzyme inhibitors that will get in the way of absorbing nutrients in other foods you eat.
Recipes- You will find hundreds of recipes for potato dishes here on Hubpages. See my recipe for Garlic Mashed Potatoes in Garlicky Comfort Foods.
Russet- A larger variety of potato that is claimed to be the best baking potato.
Salad- Potato salad is a "thing" at many potlucks. My husband makes a bee-line for German potato salad.
Soup- There are many versions of potato soup, with accompanying vegetables such as onions, garlic, peppers and sometimes leeks (know as Vichyssoise).
Spud- a nickname for potato, but with no conclusive derivation information. It is also a nickname for some men of Irish background, such as Spuds Malone, the hero detective in a series my husband read as a teen (yes, the same husband who adores potato salad).
Shoe Shine Potato
Tapas- Include a potato finger food, such as potato croquettes with a savory mushroom stuffing.
Underground- where potatoes grow.
Varenicki- Another potato-stuffed dumpling, brought over to the Americas by people who lived in Russia, like my Mennonite ancestors.
Vichyssoise- A sophistocated French potato soup made with leeks and served cold.
Vichyssoise - or Potato-Leek Soup
Wedges- how some folks cut their potatoes to fry or bake. Quite often they leave them unpeeled (or "in their jackets"). With a hot sauce they are sometimes called mojos.
X- marks the spot where you buried your potatoes at the fall potato roast.
X cut into the top of your potato
Yukon Gold- is another favorite potato for cooking. It boils up waxy and mashes up creamy.
Zohar- is a variety of french-fry potato. It is resistant to dry rot which I imagine is a good thing.