From Jeff Cox
Organic Food Guy
Kenwood, Sonoma County
Potatoes have kept whole cultures alive. Not only the Incas, who first cultivated the tuber, but (after potatoes reached Europe in the 16th century) also many countries in the northern parts of Europe. Potatoes were a staple of the Irish, at least until a bacterial blight decimated the Emerald Isle’s crops in the mid- to late-1840s, causing starvation and necessitating emigration.
The word potato comes from the Carib Indian word batata, which actually referred to the sweet potato. The Spanish conquistadors who arrived in the New World pronounced it patata and used it also to refer to the white potato because of its similar appearance. Eventually the word became papas in Spanish. Like other New World crops, such as peppers and tobacco, potatoes soon conquered Europe and then the world. The Italians first thought of potatoes as a kind of truffle, because they both grow under the ground, and called them tartufo bianco, or white truffle. That became taratufflo, which the Germans heard as kartoffel. The Russians heard the German name and gave it a Slavic twist by calling them kartochki.
The Organic Factor
The flavor and texture—even the color—of the same variety of potato can change dramatically depending on where it’s grown and the soils and climate in that place. But no matter where they’re grown, few foods are better than potatoes pulled fresh from dark, crumbly organic soil and cooked within minutes. They have an earthy, comforting flavor, probably from delicate esters and other flavor compounds that disappear in storage. They also have a smooth, rich texture, perhaps due to the contrast with conventionally grown potatoes whose cell division has been chemically altered. If you can’t grow potatoes where you live, by all means seek out real organic spuds at the farmers’ markets or organic supermarket. You’ll also be more likely to find some of the superior if somewhat unusual varieties at farmers’ markets.