About the gods of potato and its PR managers, about how they took overseas vegetables in Europe and how armed guards contributed to the spread of this plant, read the rubric "History of Science".
The potato familiar to us originates from the South American Andes, where it was cultivated about 8000 years ago. During this time, local farmers bred almost 200 plant varieties, many of which have a bright color or an unusual tuber shape, and also developed protection against diseases, insects and frosts.
For the Andean peoples, potatoes, which they could grow in the harsh conditions of the mountains and stored for a long time in case of crop failure (drying or freezing), was very important. It is not surprising that he appeared and his own deity in the pantheon of the Incas - Aksomama, one of the daughters of the goddess of the earth, Pachamama.
Descriptions of potatoes and other plants used by the Indians are found among some Spaniards - those of them who were engaged not only in military campaigns, but also in the study of the life of local residents. Such notes were left by Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada, ruler of New Grenada (Colombia), as well as a possible prototype of Don Quixote, a priest and poet Juan de Castellanos, who studied the peoples of South America and described potatoes in his poem about the conquest of the territory of Colombia and Venezuela.
The most famous descriptions of the plant were made by Pedro Cieza de Leon, a researcher in South America who described the history of its conquest. He himself participated in the campaigns, having passed with the conquistadors of the territory of several countries. In addition to potatoes, he talked about avocados and pineapples, alpacas, anacondas, sloths and possums. He saw the Nazca geoglyphs, suspension bridges and signs on the Inca Roads. The first part of his monumental work, The Chronicle of Peru, was published in Seville in 1553, the rest as early as the XNUMXth century. De Leon is considered the first to bring potatoes to Europe.
However, simply delivering tubers to the continent was not enough. If the plant was still reconciled to a colder climate (it was grown in the mountains, and early fall was not a big problem), then a longer summer day markedly reduced the yield of potatoes. There is no consensus on how to solve this problem. Perhaps a species tolerant of long days appeared during the propagation of potatoes by seed. On the other hand, a ship could simply bring in another kind of potato — from southern Chile.
The appearance of potatoes in England and Ireland, in whose history it played a difficult role, is associated with the name of the British mathematician, astronomer and translator Thomas Herriot. He traveled around North America, learned the language of one of the local tribes, just a few months later, Galileo sketched the Moon, which he saw through a telescope, corresponded with Johannes Kepler and proposed mathematical symbols <and> to indicate the concepts of "less" and "more." The potato brought by him took root well in Ireland, where it yielded good crops and became a support for the poor population of the country. But the fact that a third of the Irish relied on potatoes as one of the main sources of nutrition turned out to be the other side (Harriot could hardly have foreseen it): one plant disease - late blight caused by microorganisms - provoked the Great Famine, which claimed, according to various estimates, from 20% to 25% of the country's population. Another 1,5 million people left the country forever.
However, in general, in Europe, potatoes were not immediately taken, and a lot of time passed before its inhabitants evaluated the unpretentiousness and nutritional properties of the plant. Peasants, the Church, and some Slavophiles in Russia opposed an unfamiliar vegetable. Lack of information also interfered: potatoes were mistaken for an ornamental plant, they tried to eat its poisonous fruits (dark green berries that looked like small tomatoes).
But soon, farmers appreciated the various virtues of potatoes. For example, it was less likely, compared to crops, to take the passing enemy armies, and it remained a reliable source of food in the cold years, when the usual crops yielded less yield. The landowners liked that, although it was not as convenient to store as grain, it did not need a flour mill for it. In 1600, the French agronomist Olivier de Serre compared the taste of potatoes with truffles. However, the very origin of the word "potato" comes from German Tartuffel and Italian truffle - truffle.
The nutritional properties of potatoes were confirmed by such scientists as Antoine Parmantier - the author of the technology for obtaining sugar from beets and the organizer of the vaccination campaign for smallpox. After Prussian captivity, where he had to eat potatoes, he began to actively promote this vegetable, showing miracles of ingenuity. He made bouquets of potato flowers for noble people (Marie Antoinette also wore such a hat), attracted celebrities (for example, Benjamin Franklin or Antoine Lavoisier) to his “advertising”, as well as his own knowledge of human nature (exposing armed but not very vigilant guard).
Today, potatoes are the most popular root crops, bypassing cassava and sweet potato by a large margin in terms of the weight of the crop grown around the world. China remains the leader, followed by India and Russia. So a plant exported from South America, took root on the other side of the world and regularly feeds millions of people.
A source: https://indicator.ru