My Mother’s An Inca

baked-potatoMy mother believes that if she doesn’t have potatoes every day she will die. I believe that she really believes that because she gets quite agitated if it gets near the end of the day and no potatoes have yet made it into her system .

Needless to say, we had potatoes for supper every single night of my life until I left home. This abundance of potatoes is not why I left home, but it may have been an underlying contributing factor. Who knows.

My mother has potatoes (mashed or fried) with spaghetti. She has potatoes with Chinese food because she doesn’t like rice. She always has potato dumplings handy for soup, in case whoever made the soup forgot to put potatoes in it. And there are always little pots of leftover potatoes of some form or another in her fridge for emergencies. She often brings a pot along when she goes somewhere for supper because she’s learned from experience that some people don’t have potatoes for supper every day.

My mother should have been an Inca.

Potatoes were first cultivated in the Peru area over 10,000 years ago. Potatoes and grains made up the bulk of the Inca diet, with a little fish, vegetables, nuts and maize thrown in for variety. Quechua, the Inca language, has more than one thousand words to describe potatoes and potato varieties. The Incas worshipped potato gods.


Okay, they probably didn’t look like that, but the Incas really did worship potato gods.  Along with potatoes’ delicious, nutritious qualities, they were also used medicinally and considered symbols of fertility. I don’t know why — they don’t look like anything sexy. See.  Here’s a actual Inca potato worshippy thing:


The Incas rubbed potatoes on the skin of sick people to make them better and used potatoes to help women in childbirth. I’m not sure how. Maybe getting them to peel a pile of spuds took their minds of their labour. Or maybe they used them to chuck at whoever had knocked them up so they could share in the pain.

Anyway, these days, the  average North American eats close to 140 pounds of potatoes per year and  the potato has become a nutritional staple around the world.

And no wonder. Potatoes have lots of good stuff in them. One 5 ½ ounce baked potato with skin contains:

  • 45% of the daily value for vitamin C
  • 620 mg potassium, comparable to bananas, spinach and broccoli
  • trace amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, folate, magnesium, phosphorous, iron and zinc
  • No fat
  • 110 calories

Potatoes also contain toxic glycoalkaloids, which are also found in tomatoes and peppers and are members of the deadly nightshade family. Deadly nightshade, as we know from The Nightmare Before Christmas, affects the nervous system causing weakness and confusion, headaches, diarrhea, cramps and sometimes coma and death.

There aren’t many cases of potato poisoning however because people don’t usually eat spoiled potatoes or green potatoes or potato sprouts.  Yes, that old wives’ tale about not eating that green stuff some potatoes have is true.

And speaking of delicious, non-poisonous potatoes, French fries do not originate in France at all, but in Belgium. The Belgians are still quite irate, I understand that the French just took credit for French fries and seem happy to keep doing so.

The Belgians have been deep-frying potatoes since the 17th century. It started out as a winter substitute for the little fish they used to catch and fry in oil. Because in the winter they couldn’t catch any fish, so instead of just not eating anything at all, they cut up potatoes in the shape of little fish and fried them instead. (True story).

So then during World War I British and American soldiers first discovered these high cholesterol treats at a Belgian McDonald’s or something and brought the idea back home; calling them French fried potatoes because that’s the language the people in Belgium, who made the potatoes, spoke. Poor old Belgians.

If you don’t want to eat potatoes you can also use them to:

  1. Remove stains from your hands by rubbing the hands with raw potato
  2. Make hot or cold compresses with grated potato
  3. Remove tarnish from silverware – boil potatoes and soak silver in potato water
  4. Get rid of eye puffiness by placing slices of raw potato on the eyes
  5. shine old scuffy shoes –  just rub with raw potato and then polish

But if you do want to consume potatoes, here are some unusual potato ideas:

Papa a la Huancaína – a Peruvian potato salad made from boiled yellow potatoes in a creamy, spicy Huancaina sauce served over lettuce and garnished with black olives, corn kernals and hardboiled egg quarters. The sauce is made of white cheese (i.e.: Farmer’s cheese), vegetable oil, a hot yellow Peruvian chili pepper called aji amarillo, evaporated milk and salt blended together. Some recipes also add garlic, onion and crushed saltines.


Poutine Râpée – a traditional Acadian dish from New Brunswick and very different from the Quebec version of poutine. The Acadian poutine is a baseball-sized ball of grated and mashed potatoes filled with a ball of chopped up pork in the middle. The whole thing is boiled like a dumpling and eaten sprinkled with salt and pepper or sometimes brown sugar. Beurk.


Regular Poutine is a big-assed helping of Belgian Fries with fresh cheese curds on top drowning in hot, brown gravy.


Potato Vodka: Peel  1kg of potatoes for a litre of vodka. Chop the potatoes into small 1 centimeter cubes. Put the potato cubes into a pressure cooker with more than enough water to cover the potatoes. Cook until the potatoes have dissolved in the water and let the whole mess cool down. Strain out the potato leaving the juice to make your vodka.

Then you need to make a still. (Or you can buy a still for about $150) Something that will heat the juice and capture the steam and collect it — a big pot with a lid that connects to a tube or a pipe and another container to collect the juice at the other end. You do the whole distilling thing a few times and you end up with some highly intoxicating beverage.


 Mmmmmm…potatoes. Who doesn’t love potatoes?smashed-potatoes1

37 responses to “My Mother’s An Inca

  1. I LOVE potatoes too! I thought it was purely a ‘European thing’ to love them, but I guess the Incans proved me wrong. I do have to say though that the ‘poutine râpée’ thing looks kinda gross.

  2. There are restaurants in Montreal that will shred chunks of smoked meat on top of the poutine.

    (…as if the meal wasn’t cardiac enough!)

  3. I had potatoes almost everyday when I was growing up. Unlike you, that led me to really, really dislike them. Except for French fries (thanks for the Belgian info – who knew?) but, then again, I like pretty much anything fried.

    Is that your potato vodka still??

  4. I’ve read that there are some haute poutines in Montreal that incorporate fois gras — talk about cholesterol bomb. But now I’m craving poutine.

    Oh, you should go over and check out my blog today.

  5. Mmmmm … love potatoes too. Belgian Fries eh … who knew … (well, you did.) I like my poutine w/ onion ring bits sprinkled on top. 🙂

  6. Hannah – How could you not love potatoes? They’re the ultimate comfort food in whatever form you make them. And ya, I was feeling a little nauseated just writing about poutine râpée

    Friar – I think no Francophone meal is complete without pork.

    Laurie – You don’t like potatoes? I didn’t know that was possible. Is there a particular kind of French fry you like best? Big chunky ones or McDonald’s or homemade? Skins on?

    Alison – Well, the French can throw fois gras on their fries and cheese but they’ll never out-grease the English. And speaking of English, whatever their culinary faults, at least they know how to eat toast properly!!

    Olivia – Onion ring bits? Gadzooks…well, I guess if you’re going to sit down to a heart-stopping meal you might as well go for broke.

  7. Wow. I had no idea that rubbing potatoes on your skin had medicinal value. This is great news. Now when people ask me why I’m doing it I’ll finally have an answer that won’t creep them out. And as an additional tip to your readers, Au Gratin feels the best.

  8. It’s quite probable your mother has descended directly from Pachamama, her birth in Europe not withstanding.
    On the other hand isn’t it good that it wasn’t Flemish speaking Belgians that were making the fries cause Flemish fries is hard to say and somehow sounds lke you got a cold or something.

  9. Guillermo – The Incas really had it all going on. I always thought potatoes originated in Europe somewhere, but no – the Incas! Who knew?

    Dr. Monkey – I hope you’re taking notes. There may be a test one day.

    Mayopie – Are you available to be my new boyfriend? Not just because of your potatoey great health, but also because you’re so freakin’ hilarious.

    Bandobras – And Flem-fried potatoes just doesn’t sound very appetizing either. Pachemama – hee hee.

    Hannah – Ya, I know. You misread MY comment. I was agreeing with you. As in, “Of course you love potatoes! How could you NOT love potatoes.” We need some sort of inflection technology

  10. Having spent all of the first 17 summers of my life on PEI, I can say I know from Potatoes and there ain’t much better… In the summers when we were young and hounding Mom for a snack, she’d peel a raw potato and give us each one… I KNOW!… but I STILL love em!

    And well, Poutine… Food of the Québecois gods!



  11. nothing like popping a baby potato in your mouth. mmmm.
    i’m continually disappointed by french fries. maybe we need a Belgium to open up a chip stand and show us how it’s done.

  12. And I thought my mother was strange for her insistence on having potatoes with everything – mac and cheese (homemade) with a side of boiled tatties, fried rice with scalloped potatoes, lasagne with baked potatoes… Then one day, we were in a Greek restaurant and she commented about always getting rice and roast potatoes with our meal. I knew she was getting old then, she’d completely blocked her potato fetish of the early years.

    I will eat a bowl of mashed potatoes slathered in butter with heaps of crushed garlic as a full meal. Too bad they have gotten so expensive lately (relatively speaking, they were probably just very cheap before.)

  13. “This abundance of potatoes is not why I left home, but it may have been an underlying contributing factor. ” funny funny girl.

  14. Kitty – Hey, shouldn’t you be on your way to France? They do have some damn fine potatoes in PEI. I’ve never eaten one raw, though I did have a neighbour once who used to eat raw, cubed potatoes sprinkled with sugar. Next time in Montreal I’m checking out Frites Alors.

    Meanie – A cooked baby potato, right? Boiled or baked with a little butter and chives or dipped in sour cream, And you’re right. It’s very difficult to find a good fry these days, isn’t it? I’m not a fan of these fries with peels that everyone has now or those fries with the coating. Harvey’s used to have awesome fries, then they got the “new” coated fries. They’re horrible and every so salty. A small Harvey’s fries now contains 1000 mg of sodium as opposed to a small McDonald’s fries which has “only” 240.

    Violetsky – Back before I got wise to the perils of excessive simple carbohydrates I used to love having a big pile of mashed potatoes with a can of Chef Boy Ardee spaghetti on top. Mac & Cheese with boiled potatoes though…man, that’s extreme. There’s a Greek place near my work where we used to go for birthday lunches and stuff that serves a giant (and I mean giant) plate of potatoes with everything menu item. There has to be at least half a dozen good sized potatoes on that plate, cut up, fried in oil and herbs. People have gotten a plate of these spuds even when they’re already getting rice AND fries in their meal.

    Lola – Ya, it was an instinctive survival thing, I think. I had no chance of ever losing my “baby fat” under those carb-intense domestic circumstances.

  15. Has your mum been to the potato museum on PEI? We had our photos taken with the GIANT POTATO! Oh, the excitment. And thanks for the picture of poutine. I am off to drool a little now (I’m Scottish: anything combining tatties and fat appeals to me)

  16. This is too funny. My blogger buddy (Scarlet)’s dad has a side of plain white rice with every meal. If you served him Papa a la Huancaína, he would want a side of rice. And she has said he has it with spaghetti and lasagne. I’m sure he asks for it with baked potatoes, too. I’ve known people who have to have bread with every meal but never rice or potatoes. I have to say though, that between your mom and Scarlet’s dad, I’d hang with your mom. I hate plain white rice. I LOVE potatoes.

  17. i friggen love spuds! we could have easily grown up in the very same household. every night of the week we also ate spuds ….. still i would prefer to have spuds over rice or pasta any day. but even though i ate those every night i did not know all these interesting facts xup.

  18. We had potatoes every single dinner too when I was a kid, and while I do like them, I don’t cook them every day. My mother still does. She also makes mashed potato sandwiches for herself when she has leftovers. Anybody else do that, or is my mom just one-of-a-kind?

  19. yep potatoes are awesome, i don’t think i could eat them every day like your mom though, i get bored too easily.

    by the way, i eat all my sandwiches on toasted bread now. i really enjoy them better when the bread is toasted. thought you’d like to know that, seeing as how you are the responsible party for “introducing the idea”…..

  20. Holy crap. I’m basically reading this in the middle of the night AND I WANT MASHED POTATOES SO BADLY RIGHT NOW I’m pretty sure I’m not even going to be able to sleep.

  21. Loth – No, we never made it to the Potato Museum. Please understand that my mother isn’t actually an Inca. She has no false potato idols – she would consider that blasphemy. Potatoes are only her lifeblood, not her spiritual advisors. Anyway… have you never had poutine in your Canadian travels? Another thing to add to your list. Of course you have to go to Quebec for the real thing. But if you’re going to be in Ottawa anyway, we’re right next door.

    Chris – Yup, I was weaned on potatoes.

    Geewits – I’m so surprised. I would have said if anyone would come back saying they hate potatoes it would have been you, just because you always seem to like stuff others don’t and not like stuff most other people do. Goes to show you… I have a friend whose husband has fries with supper every night. He has a giant sack of potatoes in the garage, a deep fryer, a sink, potato peeler and French fry cutting thing. While she’s making supper in the kitchen, he’s in the garage cooking himself up a heap of fries. He’s pushing 60 now and is health as a horse.

    Jobthingy – Riiiiiight. I suppose if you stuck with eating, admiring, preparing and talking about potatoes you’d be fine. Other than that I can’t think of 2 people I know who have less in common.

    Raino –Potatoes are very complicated beings, aren’t they? I don’t even eat that many potatoes any more. I like them a lot, but I like a variety of rices and pastas just as much – depending on what I’m in the mood for. I have fries a couple times a month and baked potato with Sunday dinner a couple times a month, but other than that, not so much.

    Milan – Excellent. Did you have only potatoes – a variety of differently prepared potatoes? Or potatoes with a few side dishes?

    Olivia – I can see I missed out on something special here. I just went to Anne of Green Gables and the beach with a quick tour of Charlottetown.

    Pinklea – My mum’s favourite thing to do with leftover mashed potatoes is roll them into balls about the size somewhere between a golf ball and a tennis ball and then wrap a strip of bacon around the ball and fry it slowly in a pan. She’ll have this for breakfast, sometimes with an egg if she remembers. I used to love those things.

    Leah – Excellent again. I love it when this blog changes lives for the better!!

    Lesley – You should never read this blog just before bed. It’s far too stimulating. You should know this by now. (HA!) I used to keep a box of instant mashed potatoes in the cupboard when I was at university for middle of the night mashed potato emergencies. They were probably not so good, but they did the trick. I was still a heavy potato user back then having just departed from Casa del Potato. So I was after any potato substance any time regardless of quality or purity. Eventually I realized what potatoes were doing to me and I went into potato rehab and kicked them. I’ll always be a potato lover, of course, but I can control it now.

  22. My mom would make patties out of mashed potatoes and fry them in butter like hamburgers (I think a bit more milk was added to keep them from falling apart). Good with gravy too.

    I always thought we had potatoes with every supper, but no, not with dishes like spaghetti or macaroni and cheese.

  23. Cedar – the potatoes would come out of the ground green because they’re exposed to light – that’s the poisonous bit. I don’t know how your potatoes go green in a veggie bin? They may sprout and get rubbery and eventually rot, in which case you shouldn’t eat them either, though I don’t know how you could because they get highly stinky. You’re not storiing potatoes in the fridge by any chance are you? Tsk. Tsk. From now on consult me before eating anything.

    Becky – Ya, that’s kind of what my mum does except hers are round instead of patty shaped and she wraps bacon around them first. Your family were obviously potato amateurs … no potatoes with spaghetti indeed!

  24. Your blog is always so useful! I love it!
    Also, potatoes were one of the few things that Sodexo could do properly, so they have a special place in my heart. Plus, you can make little cities using mashed potatoes, AND THAT IS SO COOL.

  25. I love potatoes, I think they’re highly underrated.

    And I love Mr. Potatohead. I have a huge collection – I think that’s because my parents never got me one. So yeah, at least 15 Potatoheads – which is great cause kids love ’em and leave us adults alone when they come over.

  26. Mrawzors – I guess it’s pretty difficult to screw up potatoes. And yes! Mashed potatoes are a wannabe sculptors dream.

    Jazz – They are seriously underrated and it’s so cool that you have all those Potatoheads. Do you have Mrs. as well or are you a Mr. purist?

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