Potatoes in My Pantry

What do you eat for breakfast? Cereal? Eggs? Cold mac and cheese tossed into the air while your open mouth awaits?

This morning, I made potato pancakes. On a hot griddle, I ladled thick batter of grated potatoes, onions, and egg into creamy, buttery pools and waited for the steam to rise.

Flip, crisp, plate, dollop (with plain yogurt), eat, and ahhhh.

The Tastiest First Meal of the Day

When I am in Las Cruces, NM, my favorite breakfast restaurant is The Shed (try the enchiladas, and ask for them with chorizo sausage). They give you a choice of pinto beans or potatoes, and good luck deciding which is better. They are both perfect. But the potatoes they serve are nuggets of crunchy, golden goodness that make the world a better place. At least until they’re gone!

Paradise from Peru

Genetic testing proves potatoes originate from southern Peru and northwestern Bolivia. Therefore, potatoes did not arrive in other parts of the world until after the Spaniards brought them to Europe in the 16th Century. The devastating 1845 potato blight and subsequent agricultural crisis, a precursor for Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables, was a result of disproportionate planting of a single variety. Societies poorest reliance upon a uniform crop was disastrous as it lacked resistance to certain viruses. If only the Irish farmers understood genetics, or at the least, knew how to preserve this cheap and nutritious food source.

When the Spaniards conquered the Incas, the victors made the Incas’ silver mine slaves, fed them indigenous tubers (which provided lots of energy to work hard), tried some themselves, named them patata, brought them to Europe, and changed the gastronomic world forever. But here’s something you may not know: the Incas figured out a way to preserve potatoes so that one crop could last for years!

The Ultimate Pantry Product

Here’s what they did:

During the cold winter months, they took lots of little potatoes, spread them on the ground, let them freeze overnight, waited for the sun to thaw them out, trampled them, let the squishy pulp freeze again (and again), rinsed them off, and let them dry in the sun. These freeze dried potatoes could last for a long, long time.

The finished product, called chuño, is available today as a flour, but in its land of origin, chuño is still used in its traditional form in many Peruvian and Bolivian dishes.

Since I love to cook, I am fascinated by this method of food preservation. I’ve scoured many websites and found this one to be particularly helpful (click here).  I have also decided to try growing potatoes. The ones in my pantry keep looking at me, so I may as well try.

From what I’ve read, it’s easy. Take a potato with eyes, quarter it, throw it into a hole in the ground, water it, and wait. But I am a writer, not a gardener, so we shall see.

I’ll let you know how it grows.

In the meantime, here is another breakfast favorite I serve my family. But let me first caution you; there are no measurements or amounts. Use what you have. Try something new.

Chop up a bunch of boiled, cold potatoes. Chop up an onion, too. Dice some cooked ham, or bacon, or chicken. Throw everything into a pan of melted butter and heat it up. Add some herbs (I like thyme with potatoes, but basil is nice too). Squeeze half a lemon over it, and a dash of salt and pepper. If you’re really hungry, sprinkle grated cheese on top. Or an egg over easy. Listen to the sizzle, smell the buttery perfume. Guess I know what I’m eating for breakfast tomorrow!

“I think,” the sweet potato said, “therefore, I yam.”

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