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Spuds in a Starring Role
Sláinte, St. Patrick!
From the Cook & Tell Column (March 13, 1980)
In the game of association, where one person says a word and the other says the first thing that pops in his noggin, I’ll say “potatoes,” and what’ll you say?
I hear “mashed,” and “salad,” and “French fried.” And I’m sure I heard somebody say “meat.”
That’s about it, for potatoes. A plain old staple, commonly regarded as an accompaniment to something else, rather like a bridesmaid, never a bride. Too bad, in light of its complex genealogy and practically endless flavor possibilities. Too bad the role of potato is that of supporting actor, its gustatory potential unexplored by the eaters of the world who whip, fry or bake their spuds almost by rote. Too bad many of us never get around to exercising the culinary artistry that would give the potato a crack at the award for best performance by a vegetable in a starring role.
The gripping story of the potato has not yet been made into a movie or TV series, but who knows what enterprising scout may be reading this and, struck by the magic of it all, be led to create the media event of the year? The Salute to Solanum tuberosum, remember, started here—four days before St. Patrick’s Day, 1980.
Appropriate enough, no? Yes, considering Ireland has long been associated with potatoes, which indeed came into their own when they were introduced there. But no, when you learn the potato is really ours, a native of the new world, discovered by the Spanish conquistador, Pizarro, along with Inca gold in Peru. The accounts of the potato’s presentation to the old world are somewhat confused, with reports of its debut in Spain contradicted by English claims to the honor. By the time it hit the Emerald Isle, the natives were so bored with the turnip which dominated their diet, that they embraced the new species as a cheap and nourishing alternative. The mystery shrouding the origins of the earthy esculent only heightens the drama of this underground vegetable, one would have to agree.
If there is some question in anyone’s mind as to whether I go around using words like “esculent” as a matter of course, the answer is no. I picked it up from a scanning of the scholarly 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica, which devoted four pages to the potato. A dash for the dictionary yielded the definition: something edible, as a vegetable.
Edible, to say the least. Expand your horizons, escape from the mashed, baked and scalloped commonplace and try this concoction from Ireland. And bear in mind that the main ingredient is a member of—you may not be ready for this—the spooky-sounding Nightshade family.
Camera pans the misty Irish coast, focusing on a stone cottage where Bridget and Bronwyn chop onions and cabbage to add to their kettle of potatoes. Sure if it isn’t!
Makes 6 ample servings
6 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
4 c. shredded cabbage
1 c. chopped onion
½ c. butter
½ to ¾ c. milk
1 t. salt
Dash of pepper
1 T. fresh chopped parsley
Cook potatoes in plenty of water until done and drain. Meanwhile, cook cabbage and onion together in small amount of boiling, salted water for 15 min; drain. Mash potatoes with electric mixer. Beat in butter and as much milk as necessary to make them fluffy. Add salt, pepper, stir in cabbage and onion, top with parsley.
SpudFact: The potato is northern Maine's primary agricultural product and in the 1940s Maine's potato production was tops in the nation. Potatoes played a vital role in the economic prosperity of the region because of its large farms and fertile land.
The number of acres of farmland devoted to potatoes decreased over the years because of rotational crops, conservation and fewer farmers. By 1994, Maine had fallen to the eighth ranked potato producer. In the year 2000, Maine grew 63,000 acres of potatoes and nearly 90 percent of that was in Aroostook County.
And if you’re in or around The County, be sure to check out the annual Potato Blossom Festival, held July 8-16 this year in Fort Fairfield.