Baked Potato Season

You can just about live off potatoes.  I mostly did that during my years in graduate school.   A baked potato topped with a little butter and green beans or sauerkraut is a good meal and really requires nothing else. Potatoes have an unjustly bad reputation. 

They got a bad rep from the Irish Potato famine (the monuments above commemorate the refugees who fled Potato Famine and became fine citizens of Massachusetts) but more recently they have been attacked for being a high carbohydrate, high calories food.   A potato has no more calories than an apple of around the same size (potatoes tend to be bigger). The calories come from all the crap we pile on them; it’s the butter, bacon bits, sour cream, cheese and all the other things that add that fat and calories.

Despite their ubiquity central and northern European diets, Potatoes are a native American food.   It took a long time to get Europeans to eat them. Like most “ancient traditions” it is not really very old.  Many people thought they were poison.  The green tubers and sprout are indeed poisonous.   Potatoes and tomatoes are members of the nightshade family and most of the siblings are as dangerous as the ominous family name implies.  But the bigger reason was just habit.   Potatoes are strange.  They are not like other root crops such as carrots or turnips.  In fact, they are a lot more like an apple.  The French even call them pomme de terre or ground apples.

The French Revolution and the generation of violence it provoked across Europe was the catalyst that thrust potatoes firmly into European cuisine.  The edible part of the potato plant grows below ground and so is less at risk when marauding armies trample or burn the crops.   Of course, potatoes were not as good back then.  The potatoes most of us love were developed by Luther Burbank in 1872.  Like the corn & tomatoes, potatoes as we know them are largely a man-made modern creation.   

I still eat baked potatoes seasonally.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  First is that potatoes are available and cheap in the fall.   You can get a ten pound bag of potatoes for a few dollars in November or December.  That is why I ate them as a poor graduate student.  (You can get a week’s worth of meals for around $10 even at today’s prices.)  Beyond that, I don’t like to bake during the warm weather months, but it is nice to let the oven warm up the house when the weather turns cold.   I learned to be a cheapskate long ago and I see no reason to change now, especially when my potato habits make sense and potatoes are so good.

Anyway, potatoes are easy to cook, cheap and basically good for you when you add some vegetables and not too much butter or sour cream.  I suppose that is the reason why they are an integral part of a hardy meal.