Who really introduced the potato to Europe?

My girlfriend came home from work yesterday and told me about an argument that had been going on. For some reason or another they had been discussing the introduction of the potato to Europe and one guy had claimed it was the British and everyone else got pissed off, claiming it was some Scandinavian guy (that she has now forgotten the name of).

Anyway, I had always assumed that it was the Spanish, so I did some poking around. Most sources say the Spanish introduced them, with the only source I can find mentioning the British is here:

“The introduction of potatoes to Europe happened at two independant instances: around 1570 in Spain, and around 1590 in England. However, the large-scale cultivation of the crop began only in the beginning of the 19th century.”

My only guess is that the Scandinavian my girlfriend’s workmates were on about is a Viking, but I thought they only reached North America and not South America (where the potato was).

So, who should get credit for introducing the potato to Europe and who on Earth is my girlfriend’s workmates blabbing on about?

The “Scandinavian guy” you mention is Jonas Alström (name later changed to Alströmer after he was knighted) who among, other things, worked hard to popularise the potato among the Swedish peasantry. The idea didn’t catch on, though, until it was found that you can make vodka out of potatoes. :wink:

Different people introduced potatoes in different european countries. In France, it was Parmentier who tried hard to convince both the court (by having the king eating potatoes and according to the legend, the king found them distasteful because the chief cooked the whole plant, leaves included) and the peasants (still according to the legend, since they were reluctant to feed themselves with this weird plant, in some place, he had a field of potatoes guarded by soldiers to convince the neighbors that these vegetables had to be of high value, guards who were ordered to turn a blind eye when the peasants, out of envy, would came at night to steal them). Several french dishes including potatoes are still called “whatever Parmentier”.
So, I assume that if you really need a particular name for a person who introduced the vegetable “in Europe”, I assume the first one who did so should get the credit. The spanish guy in this case.

Who first brought the potato to Europe is one thing. It was the Spaniards, of course.

Who got Europeans interested in cultivating and eating potatoes as food is another thing. For 200 years, most Europeans thought the potato was poisonous. Most of the credit for getting Europeans to eat potato goes to Auguste Parmentier who in the 1770s persuaded the French that spuds are good eats. He had been a prisoner of war in Germany and survived for a couple years eating mostly potatoes. King Louis believed him, but the populace was still prejudiced. So Parmentier employed a trick of human psychology. He planted potato fields outside Paris and a detachment of the King’s soldiers guarded them all day. The peasants, observing this, figured that anything guarded by troops must be something really good. So at night they sneaked into the fields and dug up potatoes. Sacre bleu, these are pretty good. Let’s grow some of our own.

clairobscur, just because you can type faster than me it doesn’t mean you’re smarter than me. :slight_smile: Even though you probably are.

To put things in perspective:
The Spaniards brought the thing over in the 16th century.
Jonas Alströmer lived 1685 - 1761 (cite)
Antoine Auguste Parmentier lived 1737-1813 (cite)

Someone else must have been eating the tuber in the years in between, but I have no idea who that might have been.
Also, all the accounts I have read claim that both Alströmer and Parmentier had learned about the edible root ‘abroad’. (in Parmentiers case in Germany, and in the case of Alströmer in England). I don’t think either of them was ‘the fist to eat potato’, although they were both important in making it a popular dish.

Upon further reading, I came upon this in the Wikipedia

So, it looks like Parmentier and Alströmer only managed to popularise the tuber in some backwards corners of Europe long after it was staple food in England and Ireland.

One thing that the wikipedia doesn’t mention is what the Spaniards were up to. It’s a bit surprising that they didn’t bring it over themselves.

It would be a pity if the Sir Walter Raleigh story is a myth, as it is alleged that the site of his planting of the potato was at the end of the road where I grew up (a place called “Little Virginia” on a road called Castle Hill in Kenilworth, Warwickshire. I grew up on Malthouse Lane which joins Castle Hill at the other side of road to one end of Little Virginia).

Oh well, a little bit of history removed from my hometown. I suppose it is not a disaster though as we have enough. Just around a couple of corners is the site where Simon DeMontford formed the first English Parliament, for a start.

No, the white potato wasn’t present in Central America then. At the time of Columbus’ voyages, it was confined to the highlands of South America. Columbus did, however, encounter the sweet potato.

From here:

Thanks for the answers, chaps.

I feel suitably informed.

I always thought Johnny Spudseed walked all around Europe planting potatos.

Never mind… history mix up.