Summer

Start of Summer: Worms Come Forth


November 16th, 2011
by Jo Law

In this pentad, we ventured forth into Sydney on the very hot and steamy Monday when the maximum reached a 37.9ºC. It was somewhat cooler down the coast where the garden worms were feasting on the kitchen compost. At Bellambi, the maximum recorded was 35.5ºC with a higher relative humidity of 83%.

While young Hollis dug around the garden to find his newly acquainted friends, the ‘wur’, I was bandicooting around the potato patch to investigate the status of the crop. The potatoes seem plentiful but most are still too small with some needing soil to be hilled up on top to stop them from going green. Nevertheless, I was rewarded with some decent sized ‘Toolangi Delight’ for our dinner.

Today potatoes are generally considered to be a staple in many European cuisines, it is difficult to imagine a time when these cultures considered potatoes as nothing more than ‘edible stones’, suitable only as animal fodder. This prejudice grew out of various factors including, its suspicious absence from the bible and (as Solanum tuberosum) its association with the poisonous nightshade. Its’ misshapened appearance also led many to believe that eating the tuber could cause leprosy and fearing the disease, the French parletment decreed it illegal to plant the crop. In 18th century France, the potato was chiefly championed by Antoine-Auguste Parmentier, who was fed potatoes as a prisoner of war in Westphalia (Germany) and realised its nutritional value. On his return, he set about putting potatoes on France’s kitchen table. He won a competition on ‘a study of alimenatry substances which may alleviate the disaster of famine’ by promoting the potato as the solution. He was said to have given Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette a bunch of potato flowers which the King wore on his lapel and the Queen in her hair (this, itself, subsequently set off a new fashion of wearing potato flowers). Yet in the end, it was wars, failed grain harvests, and subsequent famine that put potatoes squarely on the European menu. Still Parmentier got a Legion d’Honneur from Napoleon and recipes named after him for his trouble.

Potatoes have been celebrated since with over 4,000 known varieties. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2007- 8 potatoes were the largest vegetable crop grown in Australia with each of us consuming on average around 60 kg of potatoes a year. The current largest global producer of the crop is China, outputting 73 million tonnes in 2009, more than doubling those produced by India, which is in second place. Together these two countries grow nearly a third of the world’s potatoes. The United Nation declared 2008 to be the International Year of the Potato to remind the world, once again, of the role this edible tuber can play in times of ‘food insecurity’. Afterall, they are high in cabohyrdates, protein, and vitamin C, and relatively easy to grow with only a 12 to 20 weeks harvest period.

As reported in the ABC Rural News, there is to be a potato glut this harvest and prices are set to fall. But you can’t buy a crop of Toolangi Delight for love or money (as the variety is unsuitable for supermarkets, according to The Diggers Club, and new potatoes are very perishable and difficult to transport). So what is it to be with these handsome potatoes? Perhaps the simple Parmentier potatoes to celebrate its 18th century advocate, or how about the soufflé potatoes that saved the day for the royal French chef (that’s another story)? What is the best way to eat new potatoes?

2 Responses to “Start of Summer: Worms Come Forth”

  1. 1 Mike
    November 18th, 2011 at 07:43

    Monsieur A. Escoffier was the chef at the Savoy hotel in London at the end of the 19th Century. He was almost solely responsible for introducing the idea of ‘haute cuisine’ to the dismal catering traditions of the English and indeed most of Europe. In 1906 he published ‘A Guide to Modern Cookery’, which became the standard reference for chefs for years to come. I have a rather stained reprint – they usually are – from 1952, which contains no less than 50 recipes for the preparation of the potato, ‘la pomme de terre’, the apple of the earth. He begins by observing in true Gallic style, that ‘The very best kinds of potatoes are almost unknown in England, and the Dutch and Vitelotte potatoes have to be imported’
    So it is interesting in the Australian context that The Pommes not only had inferior potatoes but didn’t know how to prepare them either. And further debunking continues with Escoffier having a recipe for ‘Chipped Potatoes’, not French Fries.

  2. 2 Jo Law
    November 18th, 2011 at 22:03

    More news on the potato harvest of 2011: ABC Rural News (http://www.abc.net.au/rural/news/content/201111/s3370067.htm) says ‘Spud glut an unfolding disaster for potato growers’. So there is no time to buy potatoes like now – literally: cheap as chips! It reminds me of Agnes Varda’s ‘The Gleaners and I’ (Les glaneurs et la glaneuse) in the scne when gleaners clear the potato feed of the excess tubers that do not fit within the EU guidelines – too large, too small, or too misshapened – the image that gives the film its memorable motif: the heart-shaped potatoes. See