Potatoes are popular in a variety of ways not only among Latvians, but also in many other parts of the world. With us, the potatoes are mostly ripe in September, when many farms are working – a family of relatives comes together to harvest. Potatoes are easy to grow, can be harvested well, and can be stored for a long time. Ilze Skrabule, a potato breeder and researcher at the Institute of Agricultural Resources and Economics, talks about the introduction of potatoes into Europe, cultivation as ornamental plants and the variety of their colors.
Exotic ornamental plant
The country of origin of the potatoes is South America, where they also grow in the wild. This vegetable did not reach Europe until the 16th century, thanks to Spanish conquistadors and English pirates. In Europe, potatoes were adopted rather slowly because, due to a lack of information, people did not know how to eat them and considered them an exotic ornamental plant. The history of potatoes is shrouded in various stories, for example, tubers growing in the ground were called devil’s apples, which Christians prefer not to eat.
First, the berries, which are located in the stems and resemble small green tomatoes, began to be used in food. The green parts of the plant are poisonous to the potato, so poisoning occurred, sometimes even fatally, so in many places this vegetable was banned from growing.
During the war, potatoes saved people from starvation, as the enemies exploded and burned crops and fields, but when the flames subsided, the devastated vegetable furrows took over a delicious aroma. People tasted the potato tubers and realized that the edible part of this vegetable was underground.
Similarity with truffles
Potatoes were imported to Latvia by two routes. In 1673, the Duke of Courland Jēkabs brought the potatoes from Hamburg and planted them in his castle garden in Kuldīga so that the inhabitants of the castle could taste them. His courtiers did not acknowledge that the potatoes were particularly tasty, so this vegetable did not spread so much. The introduction of potatoes into the Vidzeme province was facilitated by Tsar Peter I of Russia. edible parts or tubers in the soil remain intact. At first, potatoes were not considered a staple food, they were grown in small quantities, and bread was added to meals.
At the beginning of the 17th century, the French agronomist Olivier de Serre compared the taste of potatoes to truffles, so people considered them a type of truffle. Hence the name of this vegetable. Over time, in various parts of Latvia, it has acquired such names as bull, log, slipper, squat, topula, loaf, pampala and others.
Buy already peeled potatoes
The temperate climate of Latvia is suitable for potato growing. It is recommended to plant them in a sunny place, in moist and loose soil. Potatoes contain various vitamins such as A, B, C, as well as potassium. The coloring matter in the potato pulp is usually yellow, bright purple or red.
Composer Zigmars Liepiņš is also experimenting with growing purple or so-called black potatoes in his small garden.
You can read more about the composer’s passion for gardening here.
The dyes in potatoes are very valuable for human health, because they act as antioxidants, delay cell aging. They contain anthocyanins, which are also found in blueberries, blackberries, basil and other plants. This substance helps eye health, which is very important for those who use smart devices for a long time, as well as for the elderly.
Despite the fact that it is relatively easy to grow potatoes in Latvia, over the last thirty years these cultivated areas in our country have significantly decreased. Before regaining independence, potatoes were grown on about 150 thousand hectares, now only on about 22 thousand hectares. The reasons for this are, firstly, the lost market for Russia, and secondly, people prefer faster food that does not require so much effort, such as pasta or rice. This trend can be seen in many parts of Europe that people do not want to spend time peeling potatoes. The most resourceful potato growers and sellers offer to buy already peeled potatoes.
Potatoes with purple and red flesh
Potato breeding and cultivation is very important in the world, it is the third most cultivated crop species. Currently, the Netherlands and Germany are the most active breeders. More than 60 potato varieties have been developed in Latvia. The main thing you want to achieve as a result of potato breeding is the yield, resistance to diseases and pests, early, also the amount of starch, which is important in obtaining this product, because the Latvian company “Aloja Starkelsen” is the only starch producer in the Baltics.
In Latvia, the development of potato varieties began at the beginning of the last century, when Pēteris Knape, using knowledge of 11 languages, contacted breeders of this vegetable around the world by mail, exchanging information, books, magazines and potato tubers.
Later, Erich Knape made a significant contribution to the creation of new varieties, who in 1931 started working at the Priekuli Breeding Station as the head of the potato department. Under his leadership, many popular potato varieties were created, such as ‘Zeltīte’ and ‘Laimdota’, which once grew 60% of the total potato area in Latvia.
Willis Gaujers has created the early variety ‘Agrie Dzeltenie’, the flesh of which is very floury after cooking. Variety ‘Vita’ is suitable for fodder, ‘Gauja’ is resistant to herbaceous rot, ‘Brasla’ is suitable for organic farming.
Breeder Gunta Bebre is the author of several potato varieties, including ‘Sigundas’. This variety yields a relatively long time, potatoes should be harvested only at the end of September. They do not darken on cooling after boiling. Together with Ilze Skrabulis, she has created the variety ‘Jogla’. It blooms pinkish-purple flowers, but potato tubers contain large amounts of starch, so they can be used for its production. Breeder Skrabule has been breeding since the end of the 1980s. She is the author of the early variety ‘Rigonda’, whose tubers are large, round, with a yellow skin and flesh.
As a result of an experiment at the International Potato Center in Peru, growing a potato in an environment similar to that on Mars, it was shown that this vegetable can grow even on this planet. There are several potato museums around the world, including in Belgium, which is considered to be the country of origin of oil-fried potato straw, and the city of Bruges has been welcoming visitors for more than a decade.