Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Mashed Potatoes: Creamy Deliciousness or A Taste of History?

Basket of Potatoes
Free Image by Christos Giakkas from Pixabay
By Alanna Radle Rodriguez and Judge Rodriguez

Hello Friends!

Thank you for joining us once again as we delve into the history of this great state we call home, Oklahoma.

First allow us to say: we wish to pay our respects to the brave men and women of our military, first responders and police and let them know our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families, particularly those currently on deployment outside our country and away from their families.

Last month, we covered the differences between costuming, garb and cosplay. This month, given the tradition of Thanksgiving, we decided to discuss something of a more—flavorful?—nature. While we were discussing the content of one of the books we are collaborating on, the subject of potatoes came up.

After a minor amount of discussion, it was decided to go ahead and write about one of the more talked about topics during the month of November, traditional foods. You see, most of the foods we Americans normally consume during Thanksgiving are not natively European.
Turkey leg drumsticks
Public domain photo
Wait, what? You mean the turkey legs at our local medieval/renaissance fair aren't historical medieval England food? Fair from it! Actually, across the ocean from it. Turkeys, along with corn and potatoes, are New World--or North American--food.

In this article, we will focus primarily on the potatoes, or "tubers".

When most people think of Ireland, they think two things, potatoes and potato whiskey. In particular, the Irish Potato Blight of the 19th century. Did you know that potatoes weren’t in Europe, England, or Ireland until the Spaniards led by Columbus brought them over?

So, potatoes as we know them of the species Solanum brevicaule were domesticated between 5,000 – 8,000 BCE in Peru and Bolivia. It is in the nightshade family, much like that of tomato, belladonna, eggplant and hemlock.

It was the Columbian Exchange that introduced the potato to Europe. They provided seedlings and full tubers at most ports they stopped by. It took years for the plant to be accepted by the farmers of Europe, due, most to their dependence on the cereal plants, (i.e. Wheat, Rye, Sorghum and Oat). Once the plant had been accepted, however, the crops were mostly contained to smaller, garden plots, as the crops were heavily proscribed by tradition. Even during the first Thanksgiving in America, the potatoes were not considered one of the favorites of the European settlers.

However, once it was discovered there was a serious nutritional value to the tuber, it became much a staple of the diet of most of Europe. In fact, it is credited with being one of the deciding factors in the population growth of the 19th century. That is to say, in Ireland, before the potato blight, there were as many as 8,000,000 Irish.

Even after the introduction and acceptance of the poisonous plant to Europe, it was still considered the food of the peasantry until the mini ice-age of the mid-17th century, when many of the cereal plants just would not grow in the sufficient quantities to Europe. Once the crop became a staple, however, things changed, and the potato become food for all.
Bowl of Mashed potatoes
Public Domain photo
            So, the next time you dig in to a nice big bowl of mashed potatoes, a dish of yams at your favorite holiday meal, a carton of french fries, or even have hash browns with your eggs of a morning, keep in mind you are eating an undeniable part of history that has literally changed the world.

Thank you for joining us in this journey through, shall we say gastric history? Join us next month as we go back to our regularly scheduled program of articles about buildings in Guthrie, Oklahoma!

Photo by Kathy Harris
Used with permission
Born and raised in Edmond, Oklahoma, Alanna Radle Rodriguez is the great-great granddaughter of one of the first pioneers to settle in Indian Territory. Judge was born and raised in Little Axe, Oklahoma, the son of A.F. Veterans. Judge and Alanna love the history of the state and relish in volunteering at the 1889 Territorial Schoolhouse in Edmond. Her second published story, part of a collaborative novella titled 18 Redbud Lane, is now available. Alanna and Judge live with her parents in the Edmond area. They are currently collaborating on a historical fiction series that takes place in pre-statehood Oklahoma.


  1. Ah, the humble potato! I didn't remember that they are of the nightshade family. I can't imagine being among the first of people to sample new plants, tubers or fungi and run the risk of being poisoned by what you are eating! There's bravery in the humblest of endeavors, isn't there? Thanks for the post.

    1. You're right about that, Connie! How many people did die trying new plants. Scary thought!