There are so many recipes and uses for the potato in Poland you would think that this was the country it originated in.
There are dozens upon dozens of recipes for potatoes, as part of a meal where it is very recognisable as potato such as when boiled or mashed, as a pancake or as a dumpling, or cold in a salad, or hot in Polish potato soup. As well as that potato starch is used as a thickener in savoury and sweet dishes and to make cakes and pastries. Potatoes have also been used to make wódka – vodka and often samogonka -home brew vodka.
The potato plant originated in the Andes mountains of South America and was cultivated by the Incas. The part we eat is the tuber, which stores starches and sugars, of the plant Solanum tuberosum. It is related to the deadly nightshade and the tomato (also from South America)
The Spanish Conquistadors came into contact with the potato in around 1537 and it came across the Atlantic to Europe in around 1570.
King Jan III Sobieski grew potatoes on his estates in the 17th century – from tubers he sent back after the Battle of Vienna which was in 1683.
In the 18th century around 1760 – King August III – had potatoes on his estates and it became a fashionable vegetable.
Potatoes became part of the diet alongside kasza – porridge/groats/grits – made from buckwheat, barley or millet.
There are two words for potato in Polish – kartofel and ziemniak
Kartofel is from the German word kartoffel – this was the word my parents used. This German word itself comes from the Italian word tartufuli which means truffle like, whereas the Italian word for potato is patata.
Ziemniak comes from the word ziemia which means earth or ground – so ziemniak means something which is from the earth – this word seems to be more popular nowadays.
The potato is well suited to grow in cold waterlogged and often frozen soil – which is often the case in Poland.
Care must be taken when storing potatoes so they do not get frozen or the starches change to sugars and the potatoes will quickly go rotten. I remember my father saying that that they stored potatoes in pits in the ground in their barn.
In post World War 2, Poland has became one of the top three potato producers in the world.
Look out for many future posts with potato recipes – below is a preview of some of the photographs