by Jerry Parsons, Ph.D.
Horticulture Specialist, Texas Agricultural Extension Service
in San Antonio
Why are you here in the United States? Any of
us who have a Scot or Irish heritage can probably trace our
forefathers' wayfaringness to a garden vegetable - - the potato.
The potato, Solanum tuberosum, originated in
South America so it is a native of the North American continent.
Over 400 years ago the Inca Indians of Peru and Bolivia were
growing potatoes high in the Andes of Peru and Bolivia. Then
the "white man" came along. The Spanish carried
the potato to Europe in 1550. It grew so well in Ireland that
the Irish adopted it as their main food. The potato was practically
all that they ate. This could have only been possible with
the potato. Any other vegetable serving as a sole source of
nutrition would have inevitably caused vitamin and mineral
deficiencies. Not so with "the vegetable champ"
we call potato. Nature has designated only a few foods that
are capable of nourishing the great populations of the world.
Unfortunately, the Irish became so economically
dependent upon this vegetable wonder that a crop failure in
1845-46 caused mass migrations to the New World. That's why
a lot of us are here, folks! Approximately 850,000 migrated;
they were luckier than the 750,000 who died. The crop failure
was caused by a fungus disease called late blight. Some chlorothalonil
(Daconil Fungicide) or Maneb fungicide would have saved the
day, but then you and I would still be kissing the Blarney
stone! To this day, white potatoes are referred to as "Irish"
potatoes. For more about the history of America's most popular
vegetable, click here.
Ounce for ounce a boiled, medium-sized potato
has no more calories than the "keep-the-doctor-away"
apple and fewer than cottage cheese, avocados, rice or bran
flakes. Though we spend only two percent of our food dollar
on potatoes, we receive from that small amount our most economical,
nutritionally balanced, staple food. Complex carbohydrates
like potatoes are "brain food - they give you energy."
And they help to stabilize blood sugar. Hunger is a state
of low blood sugar.
A diet high in complex carbohydrates is in keeping
with recommendations from the American Heart Association and
U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Food rich in complex
carbohydrates include potatoes, dried peas and beans, grain
and pasta. Vegetables and fruits are also important sources
of all carbohydrates. Athletes have an increased need for
vitamins and minerals as well, especially the B vitamins,
important in releasing energy from foods. Some complex carbohydrate
sources carry more nutrient punch per volume, especially potatoes
and whole grain products.
Potatoes fall into both categories -- they are
an excellent source of complex carbohydrates and packed with
nutrients. In fact the potato is so nutrient dense, it has
sufficient food value to sustain human life if small amounts
of protein foods are included -- the Irish can attest to this
fact. The fiber in potatoes and other vegetables and fruits
is a real plus in the diet. Fiber is the Roto-Rooter of your
digestive system. If we all ate enough, the laxative industry
would go out of business. But this fiber also is beneficial
in helping to control high blood pressure, in "washing"
cancer-causing substances out of the gastrointestinal tract
and in controlling hemorrhoids and colon cancer. Fiber gives
us something for nothing. It's not digested, but it fills
Growing potatoes is easy. Whether or not you
produce an abundance of large potatoes depends on spring weather
conditions. If the weather gets hot, early, or if plants are
exposed to wet conditions during tuber (potato) formation,
yields will be reduced or, in severe circumstances, eliminated.
Otherwise, potato pests such as insects and especially fungus
diseases are controlled at the same intervals as the potato's
close relative, the ever-popular tomato. The most important
pesticide input is a weekly application of chlorathanoil (Daconil
Fungicide or Multipurpose Fungicide)for control of defoliating
fungus diseases. Loss of foliage results in loss of production.
Potato variety selection is simple because of
the limited choices. If you want a red potato, select the
Red La Soda or Pontiac varieties; if you want white, Kennebec
or Irish Cobbler varieties are the choices. DO NOT plant russet
(speckled skin, baking potato-types) varieties because of
lower yields in this area.
Once you have purchased seed potatoes (potatoes
are not planted from seed but rather by dividing (cutting)
tubers (potatoes) and planting the pieces) at the local nursery,
simply cut larger potatoes into four equal pieces or smaller
potatoes into two or three pieces making sure each piece contains
a prominent bud or "eye". Firm the 2-3 ounce potato
seed pieces into the prepared soil at 10 to 12 inch spacing.
Cover the seed pieces with 4-6 inches of compost or some form
of organic matter. Add another 2 to 3 inches of organic matter
once the plants are 6 to 8 inches tall. Potatoes should be
ready to harvest in 80-90 days. Simply reach into the organic
matter and remove the larger tubers (potatoes), allowing the
plant to continue to grow and produce. "New" potatoes
are simply potatoes harvested when they are small (golf-ball
size). For further information and diagrams of what has been
Now there's a way to bake up a batch of potatoes,
hold them overnight in your refrigerator, and serve a hot,
fluffy potato on order in a matter of minutes the next day.
Wash the potatoes so that the skins may be eaten
if desired. Then lightly coat the skins with vegetable oil
and place on a sheet pan in a 400 degree F. oven.
Par-bake the potatoes for about 1 hour until
75 per cent done, or still slightly hard. Then cool them to
room temperature, and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, you're ready to serve up hot,
fluffy baked potatoes on order. Just micro-cook each potato
in a 2500-watt microwave oven at high for about 3 and ½
minutes, which makes up the remaining 25 per cent of the cooking
time. Allow the potatoes to "rest" for 2 minutes,
then slit lengthwise and press gently from bottom to open.
Presto! You've prepared a perfect baked potato,
with a lightly browned and tender skin, and a light, fluffy
interior. Now where's the topping?
Try these tasty, nutrition packed toppers. Each
recipe follows the high carbohydrate, low-fat requirements.
YOGURT WITH CHIVES -- Mix low-fat plain yogurt
CHICKEN TERIYAKI -- Chunks of chicken, green
pepper and onion in teriyaki sauce.
TOMATO RANCH -- Reduced calorie ranch dressing
with chopped tomatoes.
BROCCOLI AND CHEESE -- Part-skim mozzarella
cheese shredded with broccoli.
STEAMED VEGETABLES AU JUS -- Steamed seasonal
vegetables with au jus gravy.
VEGETABLE STIR-FRY -- Stir-fry vegetables with
So now you know how to grow the most nutritious
of all vegetables as well as how to properly prepare these