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potato (Solanum tuberosum)

They were used by the South American Indians for at least 2,000 years before the area was conquered by Spain, and introduced to Europe during the mid 16th century.

Pedro de Léon gives the first written reference, in his book Crónica del Perú written in 1553.

British folklore credits Sir Walter Raleigh with introducing the tuber to these isles, and possibly he did grow them on his estates at Youghal, near Cork, in Ireland, but the history isn"t clear.

Certainly potatoes weren"t widely accepted in England, even when the Royal Society urged their planting in 1663 to prevent famine, and they didn"t become the basis of the Irish diet until late in the 18th century.

Indeed, the English originally thought that it was the green tops that should be consumed, and these are highly indigestible.

For culinary purposes, it makes an enormous difference to use the correct type of potato for the dish in hand.

There are two distinct types of potato - floury and waxy, (3 if salad varieties are included); within these types there are more than 400 varieties, less than 50 of which are produced commercially in this country (Britain) - to visit a country such as Peru is said to be a potato education.

Expect to lose 20% when peeling potatoes after blemishes are included.

Simple, boiled potatoes, are illustrated on the top right, young - new potatoes, below.

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