HOW THE POTATO CHANGED HISTORY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

When we celebrate the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus on Columbus Day, we should also be celebrating Columbus’s discovery of the potato. More accurately, Columbus’s introduction of the potato from the New World to the Old World. This introduction of New World foods to Europe and the east is known as the “Columbian Exchange”.

Christopher Columbus

The potato, and other native American plants “…transformed cultures, reshuffled politics and spawned new economic systems that then, in a globalizing feedback loop, took root back in the New World as well.” This quote is from an article in the Washington Post on October 8, 2018, titled “Christopher Columbus and the Potato that Changed the World.” The article is by Steve Hendrix.

An example of the potato’s earth-shattering impact is that it helped eliminate famines and fueled a population boom in parts of northern Europe. This made urbanization possible which, in turn, fueled the Industrial Revolution. This population explosion also helped several European nations assert dominion over the world from 1750 to 1950. Thus the potato is also responsible for the rise of Western Europe and its colonies, including America.

But let’s get back to the initial introduction of the potato to skeptical Europeans. The potato spread slowly. At first, it was viewed with suspicion and plagued by misinformation. Initially, some people claimed that the potato was an aphrodisiac. Others believed that it could cause leprosy. When Sir Walter Raleigh brought potatoes into the Elizabethan court, the courtiers tried to smoke the leaves!

Sir Walter Raleigh

It took a while for people to realize what a nutritional bonanza the potato is. It’s filled with complex carbohydrates, amino acids, and vitamins. It is a nutritionally complete diet when paired with milk. It also took time for people to take advantage of the superior productivity and sturdiness of the potato over other agricultural products, like grains.

In the 1600’s, Europeans finally figured out how to successfully cultivate potatoes. The effect was dramatic – the population of places like Ireland, Scandinavia, and other northern regions, increased up to 30%. In a 1744 famine in Prussia, King Frederick the Great ordered his farmers to grow potatoes and ordered the peasants to eat them!

Famines were prevalent in Europe. France had 40 nationwide famines between 1500 and 1800 as well as hundreds and hundreds of local famines. England suffered 17 national and regional famines just between 1523 and 1623. The world could not reliably feed itself.

Enter the potato. Because potatoes are so productive, once everyone started planting them, they became a diet staple. In terms of calories, they effectively doubled Europe’s food supply. For the first time in Western European history, the food problem was solved. By the end of the 18th century, famines almost disappeared in potato country. Before the potato, European living and eating standards were equivalent to today’s Cameroon or Bangladesh.

Another benefit of the potato is that it is easily portable and stays edible for a relatively long time. So potatoes could easily be transported to the cities, fostering their growth. This created an urban factory workforce. Hence, the Industrial Revolution.

In the mid-1700’s, a French man named Antoine-Augustin Parmentier took it upon himself to launch a PR campaign on behalf of the potato. He created publicity stunts to draw attention to his miracle product. For example, he presented an all potato dinner to high society guests. One of them, it is claimed, was Thomas Jefferson. Parmentier also convinced the King and Queen to be seen wearing potato blossoms. His biggest stunt was to plant 40 acres of potatoes at the edge of Paris, knowing that the starving population would steal and eat them.

Antoine-Augustin Parmentier

The potato took such firm root in Europe that by the end of the 18th century, roughly 40% of the Irish people ate no solid food other than potatoes. That was also true of 10-30% of other countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, Prussia, and Poland.

In the mid-1800’s, catastrophe struck. Blights started wiping out the potato crops. In 1845, in Ireland alone, one half to three-quarters of a million acres of potatoes were wiped out. The following years, up until 1852, were even worse. The Great Potato Famine was one of the worst in history in terms of percentage of population lost. Over a million Irish died. A similar famine in the U.S. today would kill 40 million people!

Potato blight

Within a decade, over two million people fled Ireland, over three-quarters of whom came to the United States. That changed the history and demographics of the U.S. And it began the phenomenon of the Melting Pot.

A major commemoration of the potato exists in Germany. A statue of Sir Francis Drake was erected in 1853, although Drake did not, in fact, introduce the potato into Europe. The statue depicts Drake with his right hand on his sword and his left hand holding a potato plant. On the base is the following inscription:


Sir Francis Drake

Dissemination of the potato in Europe
In the year of our Lord 1586.
Millions of people
Who cultivate the earth
Bless his immortal memory.


Drake statue in Germany

So, as Steve Hendrix said in the Washington Post, “…a small round object sent around the planet … changed the course of human history.”

SHINY HAIR: WHAT’S THE SECRET?

RDP Monday: LUSTRE

A friend of mine, also suffering from thinning hair, pointed out that at least my hair is shiny. It’s the result of insanely expensive shampoo and conditioner, a carefully chosen hairbrush … and unmitigated luck.

I don’t have a lot of hair … but by golly, it has lustre.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

The secret — other than the wildly expensive shampoo and conditioner? A very soft hairbrush, wash it ONLY when it is really dirty … like once a week. When it was a lot longer (waist length) and much thicker, I washed it every two to three weeks because the longer it gets, the more fragile it becomes. It was explained to me that the hair at the bottom was the oldest hair on your head.

For example, if you have been growing your hair for four or five years, even with regular end trimming, the hair at the ends has been around for four or five years. It is essentially dead, so treat it with great care.

Also, when your hair is that long, it takes a REALLY long time to dry and when I was working, I had to have a strategy. Wash hair Saturday morning and by Monday, it would finally be dry.

I had a best friend who was a hairdresser and always reminded me to NOT WASH YOUR HAIR EVERY DAY.

Your hair is supposed to have natural oils in it. The first time you let it go a few days, it feels weird, but after a while, it all settles down, so unless you’ve been gardening, running, or seriously exercising, your hair doesn’t need a daily scrubbing.

Of course, there are people who have fantastic hair that never seems to thin and always looks great no matter what they do to it. Sadly, I’m not one of them.

The other thing? DNA. You just have to have “that kind of hair.” I may not have a lot of it, but it is shiny.


Note: My hair is always tied back except when I sleep. When it was very long, it was always in a braid, including when I slept.

Why? I take pictures and my hair is fine. A little tiny bit of wind gets it into everything. It covers my eyes so I can’t take a picture because I can’t see anything. It gets tangled with my glasses. It sticks in my teeth. It’s hard to tell who sheds more — me or The Duke.

FORTY QUESTIONS UPON WHICH THE WORLD’S FATE DOES NOT HANG! – Marilyn Armstrong


Cheryl (aka, The Bag Lady) published a list of 40 questions labeled “odd things about me” that she received from her sister. Although 40 seems like a lot of questions, they’re short and don’t require a lot of thought. The idea of making a post I don’t have to really think about was deeply appealing.


1. Do you like blue cheese? Yum. 

2. Coke or Pepsi? Coke.

3. Do you own a gun? I used to have a b-b gun, but I gave it to my son.

4. What flavor of Kool-aid? Bug juice? Seriously?

5. Hot dogs? I like the new Nathan’s unprocessed ones. They actually taste good.

6. A favorite TV show? Currently “Rake” but it depends on the day you ask.

7. Do you believe in ghosts? Only when I meet them in the hallway.

8. What do you drink in the morning? Coffee.

9. Can you do a push-up? Maybe one half.

10. Favorite Jewelry? Anything Native American. It’s all about the stones.

11. Favorite Hobby? Blogging.

12. Do you have ADD? More like OCD.

13. Do you wear glasses? Only if I need to see 

14. Favorite cartoon character? George of the Jungle

15. Three things you did today? Wrote, wrote, took some pictures, processed pictures, wrote, wrote, still writing and deleted several hundred emails. Not done yet. 

16. Three drinks you drink regularly? Coffee, some kind of sports drink, and whatever fruit juice looked good this week.

17. Current movies? What’s current?

18. Do you believe in magic? I would really LIKE to believe. But really, no. 

19. Favorite place to be? Home.

20. How did you ring in the New Year? Watching old movies. We do kiss at midnight. 

21. Travel? Where would you go? Australia, New Zealand, and Tahiti.

22. Name five people who will most likely read this? I assume five of the people who follow my blog and comment on most of my posts. I have more than 14,000 other followers, but they don’t talk to me.

23. Favorite movie? The Lion In Winter.

24. Favorite color? Black.

25. Do you like sleeping on satin sheets? No. They are slippery. I fell out of bed.

26. Can you whistle? No.

27. Where are you now? Home.

29. Favorite food? Japanese. Almost anything.

30. Least favorite chore? Cleaning mold from between the bathroom tiles. Second least favorite? Weeding the garden. 

31. Best job you can think of? Managing editor, feature newspaper. It was just SWELL. 

32. What’s in your pockets? Nothing. I’m wearing a nightgown and bathrobe.

33. Last thing that made you laugh? When they fired another one of Charlie Baker’s appointed city managers. Hah!

34. Favorite animal? Dogs.

35. What’s your most recent injury? You mean like when my heart stopped and they had to replace two valves, do a bypass and install a pacemaker? Does that count?

36. How many TV’s are in your house? Two. Garry is the only one who uses the one in the bedroom. He watches old black & white movies and I read books.

37. Worst pain ever? Coming out of heart surgery. I tried to beat up the duty nurse. They put me back under for two more days. I was seriously pissed off. Or maybe it was when I had spine surgery and it infected. Hard to remember. I was not a happy camper.

38. Do you like to dance? Not any more.

39. Are your parents still alive? No.

40. Do you enjoy camping? No.


Now you copy and paste the questions to your blog, but replace my answers with yours. One easy-peasy post!

SUNSET THROUGH AUTUMN LEAVES – Marilyn Armstrong

FOTD – Sunset Through Foliage – October 22, 2018

It rained in the morning, cleared up briefly mid-morning, went back to drizzly and gray by lunchtime … and suddenly, just before sunset, the light turned that beautiful amber that screams OCTOBER!

The sun, just over the gate. If you look, you can still see the roses

Towards the road

It was cold, but I pulled on a heavy sweatshirt and a camera and took pictures. For almost an hour, it really looked like Autumn.

Leaves are gold

A hint of scarlet and a flash of sunlight from the setting sun

About half an hour later, the meteorologist on the news was pointing out t was a beautiful sunset, but we should not be deluded. It will be even colder tomorrow.

I took in the aloe. I was afraid it would freeze tonight.