A wise precaution is to change the seed regularly, and feed the soil with properly balanced mineral plant foods. Botanically, the potato belongs a poisonous family of plants, which contains such members as the bitter sweet, tobacco and deadly nightshade.

POTATOES are eaten by almost every civilized nation. No food, indeed, is held in such universal esteem throughout Europe or in many of the States of the Western Hemisphere. The yield per acre in the latter is not so large compared with European countries, but in the State of Maine the Aroostook County is the greatest potato region in the whole world.

Although potatoes are so common everywhere, it is difficult to believe that they have been in cultivation only for about three centuries. Originally the plant came from South America, being brought to Europe first by the Spaniards, and then later introduced by Sir Walter Raleigh into Ireland about 1560. There was a marked hostility to the newcomer, and even writers like John Evelyn regarded it as a worthless plant. It was reckoned as a perennial of little value, only a few tubers being lifted in the autumn and the rest covered with litter for the next crop.

In Scotland, the first mention of potatoes being cultivated was in The Scots Gardener (1683), where the following statement occurs: “Potatoes being cut in as many pieces as you please, provided there be an eye to each piece, must be planted in March, five rows in a bed.” Notwithstanding this, however, it was not until a much later date that the now popular tuber was in general use.

The parish of Kilsyth claims the credit of having first planted potatoes in the open fields, hence we read of one Mr. Robert Graham, of Tamrawer, who in 1739 planted half an acute on the Croft of Neilston, north of Kilsyth. His experiment attracted great attention, many noblemen and agriculturists travelling long distances to observe the mode of cultivation and its success.

Probably what led to the potatoes being grown on a larger scale was the fact that it had such great food value in times of scarcity. In Ireland its use prevented the frequent return of famine, although the failure of the crop in 1874 led to a terrible famine. During the Great War enormous quantities of desiccated potatoes were used by the fighting forces, especially in Germany. Cultivation has no doubt vastly increased the yield of the potato crop, and it is estimated that the yield may be as much as twenty to thirty times the weight of wheat or barley. Apart from wages and net returns an average farm of one hundred acres yields as follows:.


Potatoes 4,644

Wheat 1,733

Milk 1,195

Meat 733

Dr. Hindhede, the Danish authority, has done much to show the food values of the potato and maintains that it is capable of supplying almost a sufficiency of human nourishment. On account, however, of its low protein value it is wise not to regard it as other than a valuable source of starch or energy-liberating food. The average composition of the potato is:.

Water 75 per cent.

Protein 2 ” ”

Starch 21 ” ”

Mineral matter 2 ” ”

The important point about the analysis of the potato is that it shows that there we have a cheap and easily digested form of starch, capable of replacing the cereals in many respects. Owing to the fact that potatoes are rich in phosphate of potash, magnesia, and chlorine, they form a valuable alkaline or antacid food. Professor Bunge asserts that foods such as potatoes and cereals, which are rich in potassium, may cause a craving for crude or mineral salt, and leads one to the conclusion that it is best to include a liberal supply of salad vegetables with all starchy foods. The daily menu must include the proper balance of sodium, lime, iron and other organic elements.

The ordinary method of cooking potatoes in boiling water in both wasteful and unscientific. By paring the skins and throwing away the water in which the potatoes are cooked we thereby rob this wholesome vegetable of its valuable organic salts and precious vitamins. Added water or steaming is always a mistake, for it washes out the very soluble mineral salts and delicate flavours which are essential to healthy digestion.

Heat is all that is necessary to burst the starch granules, and when we make use of water it should be simply to prevent food from burning. Hot air or dry heating is the best method of cooking, such as we employ when baking cereals or bread. Those, too, who have roasted potatoes in their skins or jackets know how delicious they taste.

When camping I used to roast my “tatties” in the ashes of the camp fire, and from this way gradually evolved the idea of a simple hot-air oven for home use. The oven is made of thick blocked tin, and has a copper and asbestos base to distribute the heat quickly and equally. There is no fear of burning or scorching, and there is no possible loss of food material. It cooks or bakes potatoes, carrots, turnips, etc., in their own food juices at the minimum of cost and labour.

Dugald Semple