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The potato belongs to the family of the Solanaceae, the greater number of which inhabit the tropics, and the remainder are distributed over the temperate regions of both hemispheres, but do not extend to the arctic and antarctic zones. The whole of the family are suspicious; a great number are narcotic, and many are deleterious. The roots partake of the properties of the plants, and are sometimes even more active. The tubercles of such as produce them, are amylaceous and nutritive, as in those of the potato. The leaves are generally narcotic; but they lose this principle in boiling, as is the case with the Solanum nigrum, which are used as a vegetable when cooked.

Analysis of the Potato

Next to the cereals, the potato is the most valuable plant for the production of human food. Its tubers, according to analysis conducted by Mr. Fromberg, in the laboratory of the Agricultural Chemical Association in Scotland, contain the following ingredients: 75.52 per cent. of water, 15.72 starch, O.55 dextrine, 3.3 of impure saccharine matter, and 3.25 of fibre with coagulated albumen. In a dried state the tuber contains 64.2 per cent, of starch, 2.25 of dextrine, 13.47 of impure saccharine matter, 5.77 of caseine, gluten, and albumen, 1 of fatty matter, and 13.31 of fibre with coagulated albumen.

Uses of the Potato

Potatoes boiled and beaten along with sour milk form a sort of cheese, which is made in Saxony; and, when kept in close vessels, may be preserved for several years. It is generally supposed that the water in which potatoes are boiled is injurious; and as instances are recorded where cattle having drunk it were seriously affected, it may be well to err on the safe side, and avoid its use for any alimentary purpose. Potatoes which have been exposed to the air and become green, are very unwholesome. Cadet de Vaux asserts that potatoes will clean linen as well as soap; and it is well known that the berries of the S. saponaceum are used in Peru for the same purpose.

Preserving Potatoes

In general, potatoes are stored or preserved in pits, cellars, pies, or camps; but, whatever mode is adopted, it is essential that the tubers be perfectly dry; otherwise, they will surely rot; and a few rotten potatoes will contaminate a whole mass. The pie, as it is called, consists of a trench, lined and covered with straw; the potatoes in it being piled in the shape of a house roof, to the height of about three feet. The camps are shallow pits, filled and ridged up in a similar manner, covered up with the excavated mould of the pit. In Russia and Canada, the potato is preserved in boxes, in houses or cellars, heated, when necessary, to a temperature one or two degrees above the freezing-point, by stoves. To keep potatoes for a considerable time, the best way is to place them in thin layers on a platform suspended in an ice-cellar: there, the temperature being always below that of active vegetation, they will not sprout; while, not being above one or two degrees below the freezing-point, the tubers will not be frostbitten. Another mode is to scoop out the eyes with a very small scoop, and keep the roots buried in earth; a third mode is to destroy the vital principle, by kiln-drying, steaming, or scalding; a fourth is to bury them so deep in dry soil, that no change of temperature will reach them; and thus, being without air, they will remain upwards of a year without vegetating.

Varieties of the Potato

These are very numerous. "They differ," says an authority, "in their leaves and bulk of haulm; in the colour of the skin of the tubers; in the colour of the interior, compared with that of the skin; in the time of ripening; in being farinaceous, glutinous, or watery; in tasting agreeably or disagreeably; in cooking readily or tediously; in the length of the subterraneous stolones to which the tubers are attached; in blossoming or not blossoming; and finally, in the soil which they prefer." The earliest varieties grown in fields are, the Early Kidney, the Nonsuch, the Early Shaw, and the Early Champion. This last is the most generally cultivated round London: it is both mealy and hardy. The sweet potato is but rarely eaten in Britain; but in America it is often served at table, and is there very highly esteemed.

Qualities of Potatoes

In making a choice from the many varieties of potatoes which are everywhere found, the best way is to get a sample and taste them, and then fix upon the kind which best pleases your palate. The Shaw is one of the most esteemed of the early potatoes for field culture; and the Kidney and Bread-fruit are also good sorts. The Lancashire Pink is also a good potato, and is much cultivated in the neighbourhood of Liverpool. As late or long-keeping potatoes, the Tartan or Red-apple stands very high in favour.

The Potato as an Article of Human Food

This valuable esculent, next to wheat, is of the greatest importance in the eye of the political economist. From no other crop that can be cultivated does the public derive so much benefit; and it has been demonstrated that an acre of potatoes will feed double the number of people that can be fed from an acre of wheat.


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The Book of Household Management (1861).

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