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Pizarro was the first European to discover Potatoes in the Andes after the Incas had been cultivating them for thousands of years. The Incas made a freeze-dried concoction of their potatoes and thus, were the first in the new world to process or preserve food. A few decades later Sir Francis Drake brought potatoes home to England and gave them to Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh attempted to woo Queen Elizabeth with this gift from his garden. Her chefs threw out the lumpy looking tubers and served the stems and leaves. As they did not know that potatoes are in the deadly nightshade family, the queen’s guests all became deathly ill and Elizabeth remained unmarried for the remainder of her reign. We owe the potato’s acceptance to a French pharmacist, Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, who championed the potato following a stint as a German prisoner during the Seven Years’ War. He was fed almost exclusively on potatoes during his captivity and returned home convinced that the tubers had unplumbed possibilities. To convince the public that potatoes were not only safe, but desirable, he planted a large field and posted sentries to guard the valuable and mysterious crop. Once the potatoes were set and sizing, he sent the sentries home at night. The locals, convinced by this time that there must be something very valuable growing in his field, snuck in to “sample” the goods. Today one cannot graduate from the Cordon Bleu Cooking School until she or he has prepared potatoes 30 different ways!
Russet Potatoes are the high-starch potato used for “chipping”, baking and frying. In Ireland “floury” potatoes are boiled “in their jackets” until not quite tender, drained and returned to fire to “steam”. When the jackets burst open, they are served with just butter and salt.