Peeling away the mystery

Wonderous news, friends! September marks a wonderful, wonderful celebration of one of the greatest inventions known to mankind. This near-spherical piece of joy has entertained, delighted, endured and frightened people over the ages.

Yes, it is the mighty potato of which we speak and although it is not strictly speaking an invention, it is the most magical creature known to man, although it’s not strictly speaking a creature either.

What we mean is, potatoes are great and in their honour – for they deserve it – Weekender has collated some informative, imaginative and in some cases possibly true factoids about the tuber that conquered the planet. Although strictly speaking, it didn’t conquer the planet. Look, we just like potatoes round here, ok?

The potato is technically a vegetable. (See, we told you).

The potato can be traced back 4,000 years to the Peruvians in South America. Although that particular one probably rotten by now.

The potato was the first food ever to be grown in outer space, in 1995.

Marie Antoinette wore potato blossoms.

The potato is actually about 80 percent water.

The world’s largest potato weighed over 18 pounds.

The first mashed potatoes were invented by George Foreman after the first Rumble in the Jungle because a whole potato could not fit on his grill and he wanted a sandwich.

It would take an area the size of 45,000 Wembley Stadium football pitches to grow all the potatoes needed for the chips eaten in Great Britain each year.

Potatoes were named after Esperanto chief Ra-gu Pat’ata, who according to legend successfully faced down seven sabre-toothed tigers to reach the hidden delight, which he boiled up with some rosemary.

2008 was the International Year of the Potato.

Cepelinai (Zeppelins) aka Didžkukuliai are a Lithuanian national dish. They are a type of 10-20cm long dumpling made from grated potatoes and usually stuffed with minced meat. Weekender manfully chomped our way through two of these enormous blobs in 2008 and still feels full. Apparently seven is the world record.

In 2007, 325 tonnes of potatoes were harvested. Worldwide, this took up around 200,000 square kilometres – more or less the size of Idaho.

China is the world’s top potato growing nation, followed by the Russian Federation and India.

There are 2,305 undiscovered varieties of potatoes in the rainforests.

Potatoes are the central ingredient for some of the world’s best vodkas.

Amazonian women and 16th Century Europeans both considered potatoes a powerful aphrodisiac. Indeed, they have the same effect of increasing serotonin levels as chocolate. Potatoes, not Amazonian women. Although…

Marilyn Monroe’s first date with playwright Arthur Miller was to a Jewish potato restaurant. Later, the unlikely pair retired to Miller’s home, Crucible Towers, for a nightcap and became overcome with passion on the sofa. This is thought to be the origin of the phrase ‘couch potato’.

The French were originally very suspicious of potatoes.

There are 5,000 different varieties of potatoes available.

The word ‘potato’ derives originally from Taino (batata) and Quechua (papa).

Names

Names for potatoes worldwide – Danish: kartoffel; Irish Gaelic: prátaí; Norwegian: potet; German: Kartoffel; Afrikaans: aartappel; Republic of Clang: digingroundchipmakeyumbelly; French: pomme de terre; Swedish: potatis; Albanian: patate; French: pomme de terre; Arabic: batata; Italian: patata; Russian: kartoscha; Yiddish: kartofel; Hindi: aaloo; Mandarin: tudòu; Japanese: Jagiamo; Spanish: patata; Swahili: viazi; Cymraeg: tatws; Bosnian: krumpir; Esperanto: terpomujo; terpomo; Tetum fehuk-ropa; Finnish: peruna; Croatian: krumpir; Czech brambor; Hungarian: burgonya; Icelandic: jarðepli/kartafla; Norwegian: potet; Polish: ziemnia. There is no word for ‘potato’ in the English language.

Factoids

Chips are made of chipped, rectangular potato fingers, subsequently fried and served in old newspapers, hot. From fish and chip shops. Those crispy things that come in colourful packets called things like ‘ready salted’, ‘hedgehog flavour’ or ‘cheese and onion’, which are crispy and make a crispy noise, are called ‘crisps’.

Laid end to end, it is thought that all the British potatoes that are turned into chips every year would stretch around the world a staggering 76 times. This is impossible to prove as someone always eats them first.

In 1853, at Moon’s Lake House, Saratoga, NY, a diner sent back a dish of chips which he said were too thick. Enraged, the volatile chef George Speck nee Crum sliced the potatoes so thinly a fork could not pick them up and over-seasoned them. Surprisingly, the customer loved them and a legend was born.

£1 of every £100 spent on food in the UK is spent in a fish and chip shop.

The best potato for a good, non-greasy chip is a King Edward, Maris Piper or Sante – any floury variety.

Compared to other take-away foods, fish and chips has 9.42 grams of fat per 100 grams. The average pizza has 11, Big Mac meal with medium fries has 12.1, Whopper meal with medium fries has 14.5, chicken korma 15.5 and doner kebab 16.2.

The popular 1980s cop show, Chips, was so-named because lead actor Erik Estrada’s real name is Eric P. Tater. However, due to there already being an actor of that name (most famous for his cameos in Bruce Lee films), he had to change it. Later, he made a fortune out of modelling for the first ever Mr. Potato Head toy.

Chip Week 2012 runs from Monday, 20 February to Sunday, 26 February.

Best quote

“What I say is that, if a fellow really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.” – A. A. Milne

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