A look at America's favorite vegetable: the potato

features@beaufortgazette.comMay 29, 2012 

Potatoes can be prepared in so many ways and, even though they are native to the Andes mountains and have been cultivated for more than 7,000 years, they have truly become an American snack.

It was the French royal family who first took an active role in promoting potato planting in Europe.

But in America, it was Thomas Jefferson in 1802 who served a dinner of "potatoes in the French manner."

This probably was not french fries -- at least, as we know them -- but it might have opened some doors for this highly loved food.

Although they're not sure of it, many historians think the french fry was invented in Belgium.

According to legend, the french fry became popular in the United States after American soldiers returned home from fighting in World War I. The servicemen first encountered the tasty treat while liberating small towns in northern Europe from German occupations.

The citizens were speaking French, the crispy spuds were delicious and the fact that the Americans were in Belgium did not seem to bother them.

One historian claims that Belgians were frying potato strips as early as 1680, while Spain was in control of the area. This might account for the linguistic fumble that has Americans referring to these strips of deep-fried potatoes as "French."

In England, fries are called "chips," and in France they are called frites or pomme frites.

Potatoes are the most commonly used of all vegetables, and the basic method of preparing them is to boil or steam them.

First scrub the potatoes, then peel them.

To prevent peeled potatoes from discoloring, cover them with cold water.

Scrape new potatoes, which have thin, tender skins.

Cook them in a small amount of boiling, salted water or in a steamer until tender.

Drain, remove the pot cover and hold the pot over the stove to dry off extra moisture.

COOKING WITH POTATOES

French Fried Potatoes

Select large potatoes that are even in size. Peel and cut into slices -- a quarter to a third of an inch thick. Cut the slices into strips. Soak in cold water for at least an hour. Dry between a cloth, and arrange them in a single layer in a frying basket. Immerse in hot fat and cook at 350 degrees until brown. Drain on absorbent paper and sprinkle with salt.

Potato Chips

Peel potatoes, and slice them very thinly. A special knife or slicing device is a great convenience and will give you more uniform slices than what can be cut by the ordinary method. Soak the potatoes in cold water for a least an hour, dry between a cloth and fry in very hot oil (390-400 degrees) until crisp and brown. Drain on absorbent paper and sprinkle with salt.

Columnist Ervena Faulkner is a Port Royal resident and a retired educator who has always had an interest in food and nutrition. Email her at features@beaufortgazette.com.

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