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potatoes

The price of potatoes

When I was at home last, Boss was complaining about the price of seed potatoes. €45 they wanted. He wasn’t impressed. I’m not sure who they are or what he ended up planting but plant he did. In the village, himself has been on a planting frenzy – everything but potatoes. He can’t see the return on labour – all the work that’s involved when Hungarian spuds aren’t expensive and we don’t eat many anyway. And then I read the news:

Domestic potato stocks have run out!

What is going on with my worlds? Where have the potatoes gone? Why are they so expensive? Apparently the price in Hungary was up 66% year-on-year in February. I can’t say as I’ve noticed.

I was curious. I was waiting for a laundry cycle to finish and had time on my hands. So I did some research.

The European potato harvest has been the worst in 40 years. Prices on the Belgian open potato market are 11 times higher than they were last year. And while this mightn’t worry you unduly if you’re not into boiled spuds and parsely or spuds  roasted in goose fat, think about the knock-on effects. The price of chips (French fries) is going to skyrocket. And if the potatoes are smaller in size, there goes the fully loaded baked potato as a summer BBQ side. And because there was a 25% drop in production, fewer seed potatoes are available and so they’re more expensive (must tell Boss) and this means that fewer will be planted for the next harvest, continuing the cycle.

György Murai, a member of the Hungarian Potato Council (who knew!) said on a radio show during the week that most potatoes imported to Hungary come from France, and they’re red. The French, appararently are partial to the yellow potato and don’t mind sharing the reds. Does this mean that I won’t be able to get yellow salad spuds for my warm potato and artichoke salad this summer? Or what of my pasta e patate, that Neapolitan class of pasta and potatoes?

Interestingly, not too long ago, the growing of potatoes was outlawed in France:

In France and elsewhere, the potato was accused of causing not only leprosy, but also syphilis, narcosis, scronfula, early death, sterillity, and rampant sexuality, and of destroying the soil where it grew.  There was so much opposition to the potato that an edict was made in the town of Besancon, France stating: “In view of the fact that the potato is a pernicious substance whose use can cause leprosy, it is hereby forbidden, under pain of fine, to cultivate it.”

With other spuds are arriving from North Africa, from countries like Algeria and Morocco, it looks like the Hungarian potato will be hard to find this summer.

Even more curious now, I did some more reading and discovered that after rice, wheat and maize, the potato is the world’s largest food crop. A veritable vitamin ball, the humble potato has a bit of all the important ones:

An excellent source of vitamin C
A good source of potassium (more than a banana!)
A good source of vitamin B6

And it’s fat-, sodium- and cholesterol-free. Who knew? Where are the marketing guys on this one?

The potato originated with the Incas in Peru back around 8000 BC. Much, much, much later, while the Spanish Conquistadors were checking out what Peru had to offer, they were so impressed with the humble spud that they brought it back to Spain. This was around 1536. Then later, in 1589, Sir Walter Raleigh brought them to Ireland, planting 40 000 acres of them at his Irish estate at Myrtle Grove, Youghal, near Cork.

The local gentry were invited to a royal banquet featuring the potato in every course. Unfortunately, the cooks were uneducated in the matter of potatoes, tossed out the lumpy-looking tubers and brought to the royal table a dish of boiled stems and leaves (which are poisonous), which promptly made everyone deathly ill. The potatoes were then banned from court.

I’ll be looking with interest to see where the potatoes on offer this summer come from. My summer BBQ menu might need some adjusting, too. But isn’t it interesting what you can learn when you’re waiting for washing-machine to beep?