One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato, Four!

“What I say is that, if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.”   A.A. Milne

Children huddled in a circle, with their fists like little potatoes presented, the caller goes round, tapping each little hand on its top with her own balled up hand, “One potato, two potato, three potato, four.  Five potato, six potato, seven potato, more.  And you are not it, you dirty old dishrag, you!”  A playground chant, French Fries served up at the local swimming pool’s food stand in summer, and a silly toy are among some of my fondest early memories of the world’s fourth-largest food crop.  This starchy, tuberous plant from the nightshade family, is rich in history, nutrition and is currently leading the way, with Rocket close on its heals, in the Vibrant & Vigorous Growth category of our vegetable garden.

And like that repeated, rhythmic phrase from youthful games of tag, one can’t help but regard with fondness, the potato in all of its glory:

One Potato:  Dan Quayle, former US Veep (serving 1989-1993), conducted a most famous blunder when he attempted to correct a 12-year old student’s spelling of “potato” to “potatoe”.  Oops (e).

Two Potato:  There are over 5,000 varieties of potato worldwide and about 3,000 are found in the Andes alone.  We’ve planted 5 different varieties:  Orla, Maris Peer, Charlotte, Teluca, and Pink Fir.  This last one stands out for being as tasty as they come, and I can’t wait to eat them!

When considering the history of the world through the potato, Ireland comes to mind; Blight, the fungus-like plant disease, resulted in crop failures leading to the Great Irish Famine in 1845 and a huge population decrease through death and Diaspora.  But, over four centuries ago, potatoes were introduced from the Andes region to the rest of the world and since then have become a significant part of much of the world’s cuisine.  Which brings us,

Three Potato:  The versatility or the potato is enormous.  Consider all the ways you can eat it, with or without its skin:  Fried, mashed, boiled, baked, twice-baked, steamed, roasted, scalloped, diced, sliced, grated, pancaked, or, made into a salad.  Potatoes can be served hot or cold; with butter, cream, mayo, ketchup, or mustard; and, seasoned with salt, pepper, your imagination, or with nothing at all.  Potatoes appear prominently in stews, savoury pies, and traditional Latin American, Asian, Indian and Eastern and Western European cuisines.  Without them, how could the old Brit favourite, fish and chips exist?  Or, that Russian favourite, Vodka?

The many uses of potatoes doesn’t stop there.  They can be used as food for animals.  Place a pile of boiled potato skins on the ground and our chickens go Cuckoo-Crazy as they feast upon this delicacy.  The starch from potatoes is used as a thickener in the food industry.  And more recently I learned in an article in the Times of India, soaking a cotton ball in the juice of a grated, raw potato and applying it on your eyes may reduce the appearance of dark circles under the eyes.  Personally, I think taking a nap may do the trick (

Four:  Sometimes it is just fun and games and Mr. Potato Head hit the American toy market in 1952 and with his attachable ears, eyes and nose to make a face on a giant plastic potato.  Imagine the brainstorming meeting on Mad Men, when Don Draper decides to target children for the first time ever with a Mr. Potato Head television ad campaign.

Mr. Potato Head

Mr. Potato Head

Five Potato:  There seems to be some debate as to how and when potatoes arrived in Britain.  Sir Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh, or someone else who traveled the seas may have brought them to these shores.  Did those Spanish Conquistadors introduce them to all of Europe after their invasion of the Inca Empire?  No matter the precise history, the spud has been grown for centuries in Britain and more to the point, Dartmoor.

As it turns out, we live very close to Dartmoor potato history.   It’s true, it would be a stretch to consider our location to be central, but back in the day (1765 plus or minus a few years), at the end of our track there was a vibrant potato market.   Ironically, this site was probably chosen because of its easy accessibility on what remains the only usable road across Dartmoor.

Still today there are remnants on some old Dartmoor farms of “potato caves” which were chambers dug into soft, porous rock, used to store potatoes over winter.  We don’t have one, probably because anyone growing potatoes at Crockern could have easily taken them to market.  Still, was this a missed opportunity?  Couldn’t these caves have been used to store illicit rotgut distilling equipment?

Six Potato:  In 2010, the United Nations estimated that world production of potatoes was over 324 million tones.  Humans eat two thirds of this global production and the rest is fed to animals or used as starch.  Roughly translated, the average person’s diet in the first decade of the 21st century included about 33 kg of potato.  It is a cheap and plentiful crop that can grow in a wide variety of climates and as such, the UN declared 2008 the International Year of the Potato, calling it a “hidden treasure.”  Take that Rocket!

Seven Potato:  Not only a staple in many diets, the potato has sprouted into our language, too.  The TV addict is known as a Couch Potato.  When wanting to be free of something or someone, we Drop it like a Hot Potato.  If it is insignificant, we may call it Small Potatoes.  And if we are going back to basics, we will Stick to the Meat and Potatoes.  If you want a good laugh, just imagine us dancing The Mashed Potato.

More!:  We’ve done it.  We’ve harvested the first of our potatoes.  We planted 50 seed spuds, ten of 5 different types.  The first-early variety, Orla, was looking ready, and so we dug some up as a test and they were small, but delicious!

While I have worried about our cooler climate, increased rain fall, and the wind, which comes from all directions and sometimes with such force that our plants don’t seem to stand a chance, we have early success with our gardening:  The Potato.  This nutritious tuber has shown us that you can grow vegetables in the middle of Dartmoor and we are growing the little spud that could.  As long as it is cool and moist (we have both those things!) then Bob’s Your Uncle.

Potato Plants

Our potato plants at Crockern Farm