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Potatoes for Prussia

Written by Sabine Küper on . Posted in Sustainability


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  • 800px-Potato_flowers

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  • The Grave of Fredric the Great in Potsdam
  • Potato blossoms were a fashion in Europe before their crops were discovered as eatables
  • "Fhe King everywhere" by Robert Warthmüller, Frederick the Great of Prussia examines the potato harvest
  • Vincent van Gogh, The Potato eaters, 1895. Potatoes as a motive were used by artists to illustrate the life standards pf the poor
  • Potato Lasagne

Potatoes are very often stereotyped as an alter ego of German identity. Klischees on other cultures, their dressing style, their eating and drinking habbits, are a very common phenomina. While food and customs are in fact most of the time a result of natural circumstances, the potato holds a special place in history. It’s import actually built one of the fundaments of the rise of European imperialism. In fact it isn’t a European plant at all. The potato was imported by the Spanish Conquerors from Latin America to Europe in the 16th century. While some ignorants are sometimes  even comparing the form of this healthy crop with the shape of the noses of the human beings eating them, it is worth to have a look at the origin of the myth around the Germans and ‘their’ potatoes.

When potato plants bloom, they send up five-lobed flowers that spangle fields like fat purple stars. By some accounts, Marie Antoinette (1753-1793) liked the blossoms so much that she put them in her hair. Her husband, Louis XVI, put one in his buttonhole, inspiring a brief vogue in which the French aristocracy swanned around with potato plants on their clothes. The flowers were part of an attempt to persuade French farmers to plant and French diners to eat this strange new species.

Frederick the Great (1712-1766), King of Prussia, send around 15 “Potato-Decrees” to Prussian administrators in the Provinces. They were supposed to convince the population to grow potatoes to fight the widespread hunger-problem specially in the Eastern parts. Potatoes were discovered as more resistant against the cold waether conditions in Middle and Eastern Europe then  grain. Priests in Prussia were praising potatoes as a devine crop in the mass to gain the conservative farmers for the new eatable. During war times potatoes were an important source of nutrition for the Prussian army.

Historian William H. McNeill has argued, the potato led to empire: “By feeding rapidly growing populations, [it] permitted a handful of European nations to assert dominion over most of the world between 1750 and 1950.” The potato, in other words, fueled the rise of the West.”

For the Inca in Latin America the potato was one of their main parts of meals. The decline of their civilization began ironically with the import of Gold and Potatoes to Europe by the Spanish conquerors.

How weird, that the potato is so much connected to the German Kitchen in the eyes of the world nowadays. While all over the world French Fries or Pomme frites are the most consumed Fast Food only insiders know the variations potatoes can offer to the table. Potato Gratin, Potato cookies, Potato-soup, Potato Püree, Potato Dumplings, to mention just a few. Those who debase Prussias devine food source for the grand style of the empire are the ones, that just boil or fry them  without any vision or inspiration for culinary Finesse.

Also listen to the Potato song


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