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 Mini ice age and potatoes

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Caro
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PostSubject: Mini ice age and potatoes   Sat 27 Jun 2015, 11:13

Maybe we could do with a section on natural history.  I don't know where this should have gone.

The television, presumably on the history channel, has been talking of the little ice age and the effect it had on various western civilisations.  The one I took note of most was the effect on France.  The potato had not long been introduced to Europe and other nations were growing it as a substitute or addition to crop farming, but apparently the French peasants/farmers rejected it and continued with their old crops which were very easily affected by the climate changes.  The narrator or researcher said the effect of the starvation from this policy (or lack of policy) was at least indirectly implicated in the French Revolution.  (The programme then went on to talk about the Irish potato famine and the mini ice age's effect on the Spanish armade of 1588.)  But why did other peasants in other countries take to the potato but not the French?  The French do sometimes seem a little set in their ways, but that is probably an unfair analysis, based on not much.
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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Re: Mini ice age and potatoes   Sat 27 Jun 2015, 14:19

I'm not sure it was just French peasants that were wary of potatoes. Throughout Europe there was a widespread belief that potatoes, while suitable as animal feed, were poisonous to humans. This belief was not completely unfounded since potatoes (and tomatoes, which initially had a similar bad press) are both closely related to the poisonous nightshade family of plants. In 1748 the French parliament had actually banned the growing of potatoes, even as pig feed, on the grounds that they were suspected of causing leprosy.

In France the great promoter of the potato as cheap human food was Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, who had been a French army pharmacist during the Seven Years War. He had been captured by the Prussians and in prison had first-hand experience of living off potatoes. Unlike the French who had banned potatoes King Frederick II of Prussia had encouraged their cultivation, even going so far as to order peasants to grow them under severe penalties if they didn't meet their quotas.

Impressed with his enforced spud diet and realising its potential to offset famine especially in years when wheat crops failed, Parmentier returned to France and began a campaign to promote the potato. He had the support of Louis XVI  - although I suspect the king drew the line at actually eating the things himself - and this might be one reason why the French peasants were reluctant to adopt the potato as it was clearly being promoted as peasant food by the King. And so resistance to potatoes continued. Parmentier therefore began a series of publicity stunts, such as hosting dinners featuring potatoes for every dish, and for which the guests were well-known luminaries such as Benjamin Franklin and Antoine Lavoisier. He somewhat bizarrely gave bouquets of potato blossoms to the King, Queen and other notables. He also cunningly surrounded his experimental potato patch just outside Paris with armed guards to suggest valuable goods — then instructed them to accept any bribes from civilians and to withdraw at night so the greedy crowd could "steal" the potatoes. 

In 1789 Parmentier published his Treatise on the Culture and Use of the Potato, Sweet Potato, and Jerusalem Artichoke,  "printed by order of the king", but it was the eve of the French Revolution and so it fell to the Republican government to implement most of his recommendations. In 1794 a disciple of Parmentier, Madame Mérigot published La Cuisinière Républicaine (The Republican Cook), a compliation exclusively of potato recipes as cheap, simple food for the common people, and even today many simple everyday potato dishes are named after Parmentier, for example Hachis Parmentier, which is basically Shepherd's Pie. During the siege of the first Paris commune in 1795, sheer practicalities led to the cultivation of potatoes on a vast scale in the public parks and former royal gardens. Despite his association with the royal family, Parmentier survived The Terror, becoming Inspector-General for Health under Napoleon in which post he established the first mandatory smallpox vaccination campaign (1805). His tomb in the Père Lachaise Cemetry of Paris always has a summer border of potato plants around it.


PS : I note also that there is even today some prejudice in southern Belgium and France against parsnips which are still often dismissed, derogatively, as pig food!


Last edited by Meles meles on Sun 28 Jun 2015, 07:58; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Mini ice age and potatoes   Sat 27 Jun 2015, 17:59

Thank you Meles meles for this interesting piece of history. Enjoyed it to read.

"PS : I note also that there is even today some prejudice in southern Belgium and France against parsnips which are still often dismissed, derogatively, as pig food!"


In Dutch it is "pastinaak" and I am from the North of Belgium, but give me potatoes any time...
No don't like all those anis flavours. I don't like ginger either or it has to be in very small doses...and ginger beer if we have in Belgium all those excellent beers...

Kind regards from an interested Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Mini ice age and potatoes   Sat 27 Jun 2015, 18:12

PaulRyckier wrote:

In Dutch it is "pastinaak" ...

In Russian a parsnip is a pasternak (Пастерна́к) ..... and accordingly I always find it difficult to accept that the author of
'Doctor Zhivago' was literally Mr Bob Parsnip!

Grootjes, Meles
Cheers
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PostSubject: Re: Mini ice age and potatoes   Sat 27 Jun 2015, 23:23

Cobbett fulminated against the potato as a staple food in his "Cottage Economy". Pity it fell on deaf ears in some quarters!
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PostSubject: Re: Mini ice age and potatoes   Sun 28 Jun 2015, 00:24

Quote :
I note also that there is even today some prejudice in southern Belgium and France against parsnips which are still often dismissed, derogatively as "pig food".

Here in NZ we find the British prejudice against people eating pumpkins very odd.  It would be hard to find a cafe here in winter which didn't serve pumpkin soup, and it is a staple in every household.  So are roast pumpkins, and various other ways of serving them as savoury food.  Not many pumpkin pies here though.  But the British seem to think of them just as stock food or as a prop for Halloween.  And I don't think they're all that keen on swede outside Scotland either.  (Though North Island NZers don't eat swede much either - it needs the winter chill to sweeten and taste good.)

Sidesways from this: my grandson, 4 1/2,  is having a sleepover, and I said I was about to have a coffee - what would he like?  "Brie."  Huh - we didn't even know brie existed until we were about 50.  He had to make do with camembert, which name he didn't seem to know. I don't think is any real difference. Place of origin, perhaps - is that all.
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PostSubject: Re: Mini ice age and potatoes   Wed 01 Jul 2015, 18:33

I'm not a great lover of potatoes but I will eat them as a filler.  Actually I still like to "for mash get smash".  It's probably been touched on before but it's my understanding green potatoes are bad for the health.  My late mother was a teacher in a primary school where the school meals were delivered from another school.  One day the boiled potatoes were green - and my mother was on "dinner duty" - shows how long ago it was.  Mum told the children not to eat the green potatoes and raised the subject (I think she kept some green "taters" as evidence) with the woman in charge of the meals from the other school.  "Oh, you're right duck - I'd 'ave mashed 'em if I'd known" the lady said.  Mum was absolutely shocked that the lady would have still used the potatoes knowing them to be off but history does not record what - if anything - Mum said.  She might have been so amazed she was temporarily struck dumb.


Last edited by LadyinRetirement on Thu 02 Jul 2015, 09:11; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Mini ice age and potatoes   Wed 01 Jul 2015, 19:44

Potatoes (and tomatoes) are members of the nightshade family which includes the common poisonous plant deady nightshade. All members of the group produce a toxic alkaloid, solanine, in their stems and leaves to ward off insects and grazing animals. Normally the tubers of the potato plant do not contain any solanine (the skin contains tiny amounts) since the tuber develops underground and so is usually protected from attack. But if potatoes are exposed to sunlight either by the soil cover being removed or obviously after harvesting, their natural response is to produce the toxin as protection against being eaten.

The amount of toxin is reduced a bit by cooking but is certainly not removed or destroyed. A potato that's starting to go a little bit green probably isn't very toxic and the flesh would likely taste unpleasantly bitter if the level of solanine was dangerously high. Accordingly poisoning from green potatoes is generally rare, although by no means unknown. Interestingly, considering the incident you described, there was a case in the 1970s in a South London school where green potatoes were inadvertantly served in the school dinner. 78 boys were poisoned, the symptoms being abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, hallucinations, and with several boys becoming comatose with convulsive twitching. Fortunately with prompt medical treatment they all eventually recovered, but solanine poisoning can prove fatal.

British Medical Journal: 2 (603), Dec 1979 pp 1458–1459.
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PostSubject: Re: Mini ice age and potatoes   Wed 01 Jul 2015, 22:10

Meles meles wrote:
Potatoes (and tomatoes) are members of the nightshade family which includes the common poisonous plant deady nightshade. All members of the group produce a toxic alkaloid, solanine, in their stems and leaves to ward off insects and grazing animals. Normally the tubers of the potato plant do not contain any solanine (the skin contains tiny amounts) since the tuber develops underground and so is usually protected from attack. But if potatoes are exposed to sunlight either by the soil cover being removed or obviously after harvesting, their natural response is to produce the toxin as protection against being eaten.

The amount of toxin is reduced a bit by cooking but is certainly not removed or destroyed. A potato that's starting to go a little bit green probably isn't very toxic and the flesh would likely taste unpleasantly bitter if the level of solanine was dangerously high. Accordingly poisoning from green potatoes is generally rare, although by no means unknown. Interestingly, considering the incident you described, there was a case in the 1970s in a South London school where green potatoes were inadvertantly served in the school dinner. 78 boys were poisoned, the symptoms being abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, hallucinations, and with several boys becoming comatose with convulsive twitching. Fortunately with prompt medical treatment they all eventually recovered, but solanine poisoning can prove fatal.

British Medical Journal: 2 (603), Dec 1979 pp 1458–1459.

 Meles meles, unbelivable what you all knows...thanks for that story....
And yes, "new" potatoes have in our region a custom to cook them twice, even if they are not green (and a green potato comes out of the group because he is "hard" after cooking?) potatoes to evacuate the supposed poison...

Kind regards, Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Mini ice age and potatoes   Sun 23 Jul 2017, 14:03

Caro wrote:
North Island NZers don't eat swede much either - it needs the winter chill to sweeten and taste good.

There is also lack of consensus in the various dialects of the English language as to what exactly a swede is and what a turnip is. And parsnips are called swedes by some. Then there is the term 'sweet turnip' which can easily be misheard as 'swede turnip'. A sweet turnip is sometimes called a yam. Yams themselves are sometimes referred to as sweet potatoes but they are quite distinct. And early British sailors in the Pacific would use the word 'yams' for taro - again 2 different species. In other words the taxonomy of tubers is starchy to say the least.

The introduction of potatoes was often a top-down affair in Europe. In the 18th century Frederick the Great of Prussia was famously known as the 'der kartoffelkönig' (the potato king) for his promotion of the spud. Pomerania, for example, rivalled Ireland as a potato-producing and even potato-dependent region. While at the same time Denmark's Frederick V invited German settlers to cultivate potatoes on the heathlands of Jutland. They became known as the 'kartoffeltyskere' or 'kartoffeldeutsche' - the 'potato Germans'. Neither would it necessarily take a mini ice age to cause a crop failure. The wet autumn of 1916, for example, resulted in a blight of the German potato crop which in turn led to the bleak 'turnip winter' of 1916-7 from which the country never really recovered until the end of the war.
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PostSubject: Re: Mini ice age and potatoes   Sun 23 Jul 2017, 15:51

Meles meles wrote:
PaulRyckier wrote:

In Dutch [a parsnip] is "pastinaak" ...

In Russian a parsnip is a pasternak (Пастерна́к) ..... and accordingly I always find it difficult to accept that the author of 'Doctor Zhivago' was literally Mr Bob Parsnip!

As I was under the impression that pasternak was a Russian name, I was quite surprised recently to find that in the late 14th century cookbook "Forme of Cury", which is written entirely in Middle English, parsnips were called pasternaks ... although given what Paul had said I really shouldn't have been surprised at all, what with Middle English and Flemish having many similarities and links. When "Forme of Cury" was written parsnips were not usually distinguished from carrots, which were then also mostly white or yellowish ... I don't think the modern cultivated orange- or purple-coloured carrot appeared in England until it was introduced by the Dutch in the 16th century but bearing the French name carotte. A similar confusion also existed between parsnips and skirrets (or skirwhits), which were then another frequently-grown, long, thin, white/pale root vegetable.

PS

My dad, who was originally from Tyneside, even after years of living in Sussex occasionally still called turnips and swedes alike, 'snadgers' ... so I guess that as well as there being confusion over the well-known names, there is also a wealth of dialect names for all these common, well-known root vegetables.
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PostSubject: Re: Mini ice age and potatoes   Sun 23 Jul 2017, 21:02

Meles meles wrote:
Meles meles wrote:
PaulRyckier wrote:

In Dutch [a parsnip] is "pastinaak" ...

In Russian a parsnip is a pasternak (Пастерна́к) ..... and accordingly I always find it difficult to accept that the author of 'Doctor Zhivago' was literally Mr Bob Parsnip!

As I was under the impression that pasternak was a Russian name, I was quite surprised recently to find that in the late 14th century cookbook "Forme of Cury", which is written entirely in Middle English, parsnips were called pasternaks ... although given what Paul had said I really shouldn't have been surprised at all, what with Middle English and Flemish having many similarities and links. When "Forme of Cury" was written parsnips were not usually distinguished from carrots, which were then also mostly white or yellowish ... I don't think the modern cultivated orange- or purple-coloured carrot appeared in England until it was introduced by the Dutch in the 16th century but bearing the French name carotte. A similar confusion also existed between parsnips and skirrets (or skirwhits), which were then another frequently-grown, long, thin, white/pale root vegetable.

PS

My dad, who was originally from Tyneside, even after years of living in Sussex occasionally still called turnips and swedes alike, 'snadgers' ... so I guess that as well as there being confusion over the well-known names, there is also a wealth of dialect names for all these common, well-known root vegetables.


Meles meles,

"As I was under the impression that pasternak was a Russian name, I was quite surprised recently to find that in the late 14th century cookbook "Forme of Cury", which is written entirely in Middle English, parsnips were called pasternaks ..."

Yes the Russians have many Dutch, English, German words. For instance the German "Butterbrot" (Dutch: Boterham (slice of bread buttered or not)) in Russian: in cyrrilic the same pronunciated as the German "Butterbrot", another that first springs to mind: jabloko (I guess from "apple, Dutch appel, German Apfel") And then, I guess through Peter the Great, a lot of naval terms taken directly from Dutch as the Dutch: "stuurboord" pravi-e (right) bord, in French it is even nearer with "tribord" ("stuur" in Dutch is old for "right side" and "bakboord" again in French close with "bâbord" in Russian: levi-e (left) bord) I can't present it in the right pronunciation as I don't know phonetics and when I write it in Dutch Latin letters the English will make quite another thing from it, as the French...for instance "stuur" (right): pravije and "links" ljevije...
BTW what is it in English?

Kind regards from Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Mini ice age and potatoes   Sun 23 Jul 2017, 21:31

PaulRyckier wrote:

..... a lot of naval terms taken directly from Dutch as the Dutch: "stuurboord" pravi-e (right) bord, in French it is even nearer with "tribord" ("stuur" in Dutch is old for "right side" and "bakboord" again in French close with "bâbord" in Russian: levi-e (left) bord). ... BTW what is it in English?

In English the right side of a ship (looking forward towards the prow) is called "starboard" while the left side is called "port", or sometimes "larboard" but that is an older term and not often used these days. So overall very similar to the Dutch and French.

When ships used a steering oar over the side rather than a rudder attached to a central post at the stern, this steering oar was usually over the right-hand side because most helmsmen were right-handed, and so the right-side was the steering side or steerboard, hence "starboard". With its steering oar on the right-side the vessel would then usually moor with its left side against the harbour quay  ... hence the "portside" was the left-hand side. The term "larboard" is from the Middle-English "ladeboard" from laden meaning to load or be loaded and so again it meant the side against the quay by which the ship was loaded.
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PostSubject: Re: Mini ice age and potatoes   Sun 23 Jul 2017, 22:48

Meles meles wrote:
PaulRyckier wrote:

..... a lot of naval terms taken directly from Dutch as the Dutch: "stuurboord" pravi-e (right) bord, in French it is even nearer with "tribord" ("stuur" in Dutch is old for "right side" and "bakboord" again in French close with "bâbord" in Russian: levi-e (left) bord). ... BTW what is it in English?

In English the right side of a ship (looking forward towards the prow) is called "starboard" while the left side is called "port", or sometimes "larboard" but that is an older term and not often used these days. So overall very similar to the Dutch and French.

When ships used a steering oar over the side rather than a rudder attached to a central post at the stern, this steering oar was usually over the right-hand side because most helmsmen were right-handed, and so the right-side was the steering side or steerboard, hence "starboard". With its steering oar on the right-side the vessel would then usually moor with its left side against the harbour quay  ... hence the "portside" was the left-hand side. The term "larboard" is from the Middle-English "ladeboard" from laden meaning to load or be loaded and so again it meant the side against the quay by which the ship was loaded.

 Meles meles,

thank you so much for this to the point and complete (even more Wink ) résumé about the English "stuurboord" and "bakboord".

Kind regards from  your friend Paul.
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