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Potatoes have a unique place in the British diet, but you may be surprised to discover that the humble tubers have a long and illustrious history. They were worshipped in ancient Peru and cultivated in South America for centuries before Europeans discovered them in the 16th century. The Incas even measured time by how long it took to cook a potato.

The arrival of potatoes in England was greeted with suspicion, hostility and even fear – hardly surprising when you consider that potatoes (solanum tuberosum) belong to the same family (solanaceae) as deadly nightshade and tobacco! But gradually it gained favour and became accepted, so much so in fact, that by the late18th century, potatoes had become our staple diet and the worlds third most important crop.

Contrary to popular belief, potatoes are not fattening-they only become so when fat is added- either as butter when baking or mashing, or oil for frying or roasting.

Potatoes (especially new potatoes) are an important source of vitamin C in our diet and also provide vitamin B, iron and other minerals such as potassium. Most of the vitamins are stored just under the skins, so potatoes should be left unpeeled whenever possible as the skins also contribute valuable fibre to the diet.

Folk medicine holds the potato in high esteem. Raw potato juice, either on its own or mixed with cabbage juice is used to heal ulcers and treat ailments of the digestive tract, such as diverticulitis. The juice is also taken internally as a remedy for rheumatism and gout. Half a cup of juice should be sipped after meals, twice a day. If you can’t tolerate the neat juice, mix it with another vegetable juice such as carrot. Potato juice is also applied externally to treat cysts and swellings, soothe painful burns and sunburn and is reputed to alleviate the discomfort of exzema and chilblains. Thinly sliced or grated raw potato is a wonderfully refreshing treatment for puffy and sore eyes.

There are more than 400 potato varieties from which to choose, but relatively few are commonly available.

Variety Uses
Red Duke of York New/roast/summer baker
Arran Pilot New/boil
Rocket New/boil – disease resistant
Pentland Javelin Boil /salad
Main Crop
Variety Uses
King Edwards Roasted/mashed/chipped
Maris Piper All methods of cooking
Cara Baking
Pentland Crown Baking
Charlottes Boil/salads
Pink Fir Apple Boil/salads

Potatoes will keep for months if stored well in a cool dark place, never in polythene bags or they will sprout. Too warm temperatures can cause them to sprout. Light will turn potatoes green- if this happens throw them away. Green potatoes contain high levels of solanine, which can be poisonous if present in large amounts. If they have green patches throw them away to be on the safe side

Potatoes have been cultivated in Ireland since the 17th century.The end of the potato harvest there is celebrated with a “stampy party” for the labourers.”Stampy”- a bread made from grated raw potatoes mixed with flour and salt was also known as “boxty”. In parts of Lancashire too, a successful potato harvest was celabrated with a “shut in” in the barn. Lancashire Hot Pot and other tasty potato dishes were enjoyed, accompanied by the singing of traditional songs.

Irish Boxty Bread

  • 225g/8oz raw potatoes
  • 225g/8oz boiled potatoes
  • 225g/8oz plain flour
  • Half tsp salt
  • Pinch of pepper
  • 50g/2oz butter or margarine


Peel and grate the raw potato coarsely. Mash the boiled potatoes and blend in the grated potatoes, flour, salt and pepper. Stir in the melted butter and mix to a dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, but don’t knead. Divide the dough in half and press out each piece into a flat round. Place on a greased baking trays and mark each piece into quarters- don’t cut all the way through.

Bake for 40 minutes Gas2 / 150° C/ 300° F.

Break into quarters whilst hot and serve with plenty of butter

Rena Renwick

P’s for Protection potatoes afford;
O’s for the Ounces of energy stored;
T’s for Tasty, and vitamins rich in;
A’s for the Art to be learned in the kitchen.
T’s for the Transport we need not demand;
O’s for Old England’s Own food from the land;
E’s for the Energy eaten by you;
S’s for the Spuds which will carry us through