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If it was new, it would be called Wonder Grub.

Byline: By Bill Weeks

Possibly no vegetable has been more abused than the common or garden potato.

Over the years, condemned by the dieticians as "stodge", shunned by those on a slimming diet, the good old English spud is, in fact, a fairly low energy food.

However, if properly selected, cultivated and cooked, it is a top bill protein and a very, very important source of vitamin C.

Retail, good health giving spuds are about 60p a kilo. Our daily intake of potatoes, about 120 grams, would provide roughly 138 calories of energy, about one 20th of what we require, but our fresh potatoes will include a good proportion of the eight amino acid protein building bricks with that all-important vit: C.

Mind you, boiling spuds destroys about 60p of that.

So, the tatie, along with the pint of milk, a dozen fresh eggs, is still a magnificent bargain, food wise.

In short, the humble spud is one of the finest staple foods going. If it were reinvented it would he hailed, rightly, as "Wonder Grub!"

When we start with our potatoes back on the farm, they like well-dug fertile soil, the kind of humus-rich soil beloved of our environmentalists, rich in home-based aged farmyard manure laid on thickly, at anything between 25-40 tonnes per hectare, well mixed in and supplemented with only 750-1,500kgs of those ghastly artificial fertilisers!

But these artificials are by and large, the environmental friendly compounds of ammonium, phosphate and potash.

And the whole cycle of cultivation and harvesting is completely mechanised.

Furthermore, the number of hectares, we lay down the potatoes, are vigorously controlled by the potato co-ops or product marketing companies, as, indeed, are many of the potatoes the farm is allowed to grow.

Hygiene is the key to success with spuds. A good old fashioned crop rotation is essential and seed must be certified virus free if bought in.

Otherwise, there is still a real risk the blight, that devastated Ireland in the 1840s, could again rear it's head!

Overall consumption of potatoes as simply potatoes has been dropping. It's the ever-increasing consumption of processed spuds that leads the market. Not that the processing of potatoes is new.

One Dr RN Salaman in his book The history and social influence of the potato, refers to what was possibly the first historic method of dehydrating and preserving potatoes ( by the frugal natives of Peru!

Many, many years ago, the mature, soft skinned potatoes were spread out over large slabs of stone overnight and, at the high altitudes, left to freeze.

Next day, the women and children stamped all over the now thawing spuds. In so doing, they trod out a high proportion of the nutritious tatie juices.

The high-starch containing liquid was stored in fermenting jars, treated with yeasts and eventually became a head stretching form of Peruvian alcohol!

But the spuds?

After four or five days of this sort of treatment when the potatoes had eventually dried in the sun, the resultant dehydrated potato planks were stored in caves against the advent of bad times and I reckon they'd have to be darned hard times for the Peruvians to eat that little lot, toe nails and all!

Here in Britain, we still lag a fair way behind the USA in the consumption of processed, pre-packed, potato but we are catching up ( fast! I would estimate 60pc-plus of all USA potatoes are consumed as processed products. But I reckon we still eat about twice as much potatoe as the Americans.

When growing potatoes for further processing. It is common to look for varieties that have a relatively low sugar content which could affect keeping quality. Then, again, the texture of the flesh, size of tuber, shape, colour, thickness of skin, and flavours, are all economic factors for marketing.

Consider: 1kg of spuds in their natural state costs, say, 60p and work out for yourself how this compares in value with 88 grams of pre-packed powder at 69p, giving, it's claimed, three reasonable helpings of re-constituted spud.

Your friendly local farmer might let you have a 25kg sack for pounds 4.50 or pounds 5.50 at the nearest farmers' market, which is the best bargain? Well, you pays your money and makes your choice!
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 12, 2004
Words:711
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