The potato is one of the most important food plants in the world.
The Irish or white potato, solanum tuberosum, which now grows commonly in Europe and North America, is the descendant of a plant which originated in the Andes in South America.
The plant is a perennial of the solan-acene family. It grows to one to three feet in height, with branching stems and many leaves. The flowers are white or bluish with yellow centres and sometimes produce a berry. None of the above-ground parts of the potato are eaten because they contain poisonous alkaloids.
Both Potato Casserole and Potato and Cheese Pie are economical dishes to serve as a warming supper. They may also be served as an accompaniment.
The potato was probably brought to Europe by Spaniards returning from their conquest of South America during the latter half of the sixteenth century. Those early potatoes had irregular and deep-eyed skins and, perhaps because of this, took a long time to become established – they-were only grown experimentally in Europe for over half a century.
The eighteenth century saw an increase in popularity and the potato came to be widely grown in Europe, especially in Ireland. And, by the beginning of the nineteenth century, the potato was established as a staple food in the British Isles and in most countries in Europe.
Today potatoes are grown prolifically in northern temperate zones, but are also cultivated, with a lesser yield, in Scandi-navian latitudes and in sub-tropical regions.
Potatoes are generally oval or kidney-shaped, and vary greatly in size and regularity of shape.
There are numerous varieties of potato and each potato-producing country grows ‘early’ varieties and ‘maincrop’ varieties, thus ensuring supplies all the year round. The best varieties are those with a high yield per acre and freedom from disease, with shallow ‘eyes’ and good keeping properties.
Potatoes have a high water content (about 77 per cent) and contain small amounts of minerals, vitamins B and C and about 2 per cent protein. However, as they are generally eaten in compara-tively large quantities, the sum total of the nutrients can be an important contribution to the diet.
Potatoes should always be eaten cooked, when they make an easily digestible and palatable food. They may be cooked in many different ways.
All potatoes may be cooked and eaten unpeeled, in their jackets, and this is recommended as most of the nutrients lie immediately beneath the skin. If you must peel potatoes, and some dishes require this, peel only old potatoes; new potatoes need only be scrubbed.
To boil potatoes, choose potatoes of uniform size or cut them to size so that they all cook in the same amount of time.
Place the potatoes in a saucepan large enough to take them comfortably, pour over enough water just to cover them and bring the water to the boil over high heat. Add salt, cover the pan, reduce the heat to low and simmer the potatoes for 15 TO 20 minutes or until they are tender. Remove the pan from the heat, drain the potatoes, being careful not to damage them and place them in a warmed serving dish. The potatoes may be dotted with a little butter and sprinkled with a tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley.
To mash boiled potatoes, cook and drain the potatoes as above and mash and stir the potatoes to a rough puree with a potato masher or a kitchen fork. Mashed potatoes should not be beaten.
To cream boiled potatoes, cook and drain the potatoes as above and beat in 1 ounce of butter and 2 tablespoons of milk or single cream to every 2 pounds of potatoes. Beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Alternatively, put the potatoes through a food mill or beat them with an electric mixer.
To make potatoes for piping, see
Steaming is a particularly good way of cooking new potatoes. To steam potatoes, place the prepared potatoes in the upper half of the steamer. Half-fill the lower pan with boiling water and place it over high heat. Place the upper half of the steamer over the water, cover and reduce the heat to low. Steam the potatoes for 15 to 20 minutes or until they are tender. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the potatoes to a heated serving dish. The potatoes may be sprinkled with a little salt and melted butter. Toss the potatoes with a spoon to coat them with the butter.
To saute potatoes, prepare the potatoes and cut them into slices about -j-inch thick. In a large frying-pan, heat enough butter and oil together to cover the bottom of the pan. Place the pan over moderately high heat. When the foam subsides, add enough potato slices to make a single layer on the bottom of the frying-pan. Fry the potato slices, turning them frequently, for 10 to 15 minutes or until they are tender and golden brown. Transfer the potatoes to kitchen paper towels to drain.
Cooked or parboiled potatoes may also be sauteed. Cut them into slices and fry them for 5 to 8 minutes or until they are golden brown. Transfer the slices to kitchen paper towels to drain.
To cook French-fried potatoes, first cut peeled potatoes into fingers, – to 5-inch thick and pat them dry with kitchen paper towels. Fill a deep-frying pan one-third full with vegetable oil and heat it over moderate heat until the temperature registers 360 °F on a deep-fat thermometer or until a small cube of stale bread dropped into the oil turns golden brown in 50 seconds. Place about two handfuls of the potato fingers in a deep-frying basket, which has first been dipped in the hot oil, and lower the basket into the oil. Fry the potatoes for 5 minutes or until they are golden brown.
Lift the basket out of the oil and allow the excess oil to run back into the pan. Drain the potatoes on kitchen paper towels and keep them hot while you cook the remaining potato fingers in the same way. French-fried potatoes should be crisp on the outside and floury inside.
To bake potatoes in their jackets, preheat the oven to fairly hot 375 ‘F (Gas Mark 5, 190°C). Choose uniform-sized, unblemished potatoes. Scrub the skins to remove any soil and prick the skins, in several places, with the prongs of a fork. Distribute the potatoes over the rungs of the oven shelves, being careful to arrange them so that they do not touch.
Bake the potatoes for 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours, depending on the size of the potatoes. The potatoes are cooked if they feel soft when you pinch them. Remove the potatoes from the oven. Cut a cross on one of the flat sides of each potato. Pinch the lower part of each potato with both hands so that the ‘cross’ opens out. Place a little butter in the ‘opening’ and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.
To roast potatoes, either leave them whole if they are small or medium-sized, or cut them into large cubes if they are large. Preheat the oven to fairly hot 400°F (Gas Mark 6, 200CC). Heat a –inch layer of vegetable oil in a baking tin in the oven for 8 minutes or until it is very hot. Remove the tin from the oven and place the potatoes in the oil. Brush them all over with some of the hot oil. Return the tin to the oven and roast the potatoes for 1 hour, brushing occasionally with the oil and turning once, or until the potatoes are deep golden brown. Remove the tin from the oven and transfer the potatoes to kitchen paper towels. Set the potatoes aside to drain.
To roast potatoes with meat, parboil the potatoes, drain and add them to the pan in which the meat is roasting, for the last hour of cooking time.