With the latest harvest of this popular tuber vegetable, many wish to clarify that its origins are neither Russian nor Spanish, but simply Latin American.
When the Spanish and Latin American cultures experienced their first encounter in 1492, the potato (‘la papa’ in Latin American Spanish) was already being grown in areas surrounding Lake Titicaca. In fact, both Bolivia and Peru are listed among the first countries to cultivate this particular tuber vegetable.
This was one of the many products which the Spanish brought back to Europe, in this case as a botanical curiosity, and it actually took a while to become popular as a food. However, it is true that from then onwards potatoes became a popular addition to the dining table in many countries.
The potato, ‘papa’, ‘patata’, ‘potatl’, ‘cortofil’ or ‘pomme de terre’, as it is known in different parts of the world, has more than five thousand varieties, 80 per cent of which are recorded in the South American Andes.
It is for this reason that the International Potato Centre has been established in the Peruvian capital Lima, with the aim of conserving the future of this important plant, which, in terms of world production, is only exceeded by maize, wheat and rice.
In addition to its pleasant taste in any of its varieties and the fact that it is the ideal accompaniment to any dish, in any food culture, the potato provides fibre, potassium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin C and other important nutrients.
In 1955 the Ryukyu Islands issued a postage stamp to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the introduction of the potato to these islands, which separate the East China Sea from the Pacific Ocean and were once a part of Japan.
They were occupied by American forces in 1945 and were handed back to Japan on 15th May 1972.
During the US occupation, the Ryukyu islands issued stamps and other postal items.
In 2000, the People’s Republic of Angola wanted to commemorate the new millennium with a collection of more than 12 postage stamps honouring important aspects of the sixteenth century.
This included a stamp celebrating the potato’s introduction in Europe.
Furthermore, Denmark issued two stamps in 1992 as part of the postal issues made throughout the world to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the arrival of the Spanish in America.
Belgium issued six semi-postal stamps in 1975 in order to raise funds for its Themed International Exhibition. The 6.50 + 3.00 francs stamps depicted a ‘potato seller’.
In 1977, the then German Democratic Republic wanted to illustrate the machinery used in modern agriculture through a series of five stamps for regular mail, with the 25pf stamp showing a potato farmer. Furthermore, the stamps also display the potato as a component of good food.
In 1956 France issued a stamp to honour Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, a chemical nutritionist who popularized the consumption of potatoes in France. Hence, it is possible to find the dish “Papa a la Parmentier” in any relatively serious restaurant.
Meanwhile, Aland – a Finnish province authorized to issue their own postal stamps- launched four in 2002 that showed typical foods. One of them displayed a type of fish with boiled potatoes and another showed herring with mashed potato.
In 1988 Australia issued four stamps for standard mail, the 37 cents stamp being named “Bush Potato Country”, a piece by Turkey Tolsen Tjupurrula and David Corby Tjapaltjarri.
In 2004, Australia issued four stamps for regular mail which displayed tourist attractions. The $2.40 stamp shows “Potato Point” located in the town of Bodalla, in New South Wales.
The potato has also been important in terms of research and there are therefore stamps which reflect this.
In 1972, Hungary commemorated the 175th anniversary of the founding of the first scientific agricultural academy in the country. The potato flower appears next to wheat stalk on the academy’s logo.
India, meanwhile, issued a postage stamp in 1985 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of potato research. Austria issued another stamp in 1967 for the sixth International Congress on Plant Protection, which showed the mite which attacks potato crops.
Perhaps the greatest evidence of this tuber vegetable lies in Jersey, one of the British Isles with the right to issue their own stamps.
Amongst the four stamps issued in 1975 which show nineteenth century farming tools, the three pence stamp displays a potato digger, while the crop is shown on a stamp issued in 1980 for the centenary of the Royal Potato Association.
In 1988, a stamp in a collection of four issued for regular mail showed a horse-drawn carriage loaded with barrels of potatoes. In 1989 six stamps dedicated to classic vehicles were issued. The 30 pence stamp presented the 1926 Ford Model T which was used to harvest potatoes. Finally, in 2001 the potato was included on one of the 26 pence stamps in an issue of five postage stamps dedicated to different agricultural products.
So, whilst searching for other stamps related to the potato, also arises the task of finding some recipes for making ‘el tambor de papa’ (a Cuban potato-based dish), ‘el chuño puti’ – a dehydrated cooking method used in the Bolivian highlands, stuffed potatoes, and of course we cannot forget the mayonnaise-based potato salad, a favourite here in Cuba. (PL)
*Juan Hernandez Machado: Merit Philatelic of the Cuban Philatelic Federation.
(Translated by Coleen Tumilty Email: email@example.com)