This section is from the book "The Potato: A Compilation of Information from Every Available Source", by Eugene H. Grubb, W. S. Guilford. Also available from Amazon: The Potato: A Compilation Of Information From Every Available Source.
Concerning the introduction of the potato into England, the following extract from ' London's Encyclopedia, published in 1836, is of sufficient importance to find a place in any paper on potatoes: 'It appears probable that the potatoe was first brought into Europe from the mountainous parts of South America in the neighborhood of Quito, where they were called papas, to Spain, early in the sixteenth century. From Spain, where they were called vattatas, they found their way to Italy, and there received the same name as the truffle, taratoufli. From Italy they went to Vienna, through the Governor of Mons in Hainbault, who sent some to Clusius in 1598. To England the potatoe found its way from North America, being brought from Virginia by the colonists sent out by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584, and who returned in July, 1586, and " probably," says Sir Joseph Banks "brought with them the potatoe.': Gerarde in his "Herbal," published in 1597, gives a figure of the potatoe under the name of potatoe of Virginia, whence, he says, he received the roots; and this appellation it appears to have retained, in order to distinguish it from the bat-tatas, or sweet potatoe (Convolvulus battatas) till the year 1640, if not longer. Gough says the potatoe was first planted by Sir Walter Raleigh on his estate of Youghall, near Cork, and that they were soon after carried into Lancashire. Gerarde and Parkinson, however, mention them as delicacies for the confectioner and not as common food. Even so late as Bradley's time (1716, in his "Historia Plantarum Succulentarum") they are spoken of as inferior to skirrets and radishes. " 'The use of potatoes, however, became more and more known after the middle of the eighteenth century and has greatly increased in all parts of Britain within the last thirty years. It is also very general in Holland and many parts of France and Germany and is increasing rapidly in Russia.
In Spain and the East and West Indies they are not much cultivated, owing to the heat of the climate; but in all the temperate parts of North America, Australasia, and South America they are grown by the colonists. In China they are cultivated, but not extensively, owing to the slow progress which everything new makes in that country. Indeed, no root hitherto discovered is so well adapted for universal use as the tubers of the potatoe; for, having no peculiarity of taste, and consisting cniefly of starch, their farina is nearly the same as that of grain. Hence, with the flower of potatoes, puddings and such preparations as do not call the gluten of wheat flower into action, may be made equal to those of millet or rice, and excellent bread with a moderate proportion of good wheat flower. Potatoe starch, independently of its use in the laundry and as a hair powder, is considered an equally delicate food as sago or arrow-root. As starch and sugar are so nearly the same that the former is easily converted into the latter, the potatoe yields a spirit equal to that of malt by distillation and a wine or beer by the fermentative process.'
Monsieur Henri L. de Vilmorin, in his lecture on the best kinds of potato, read before the Agricultural Society of Paris on January 30, 1888, mentions that toward the end of the sixteenth century, -the potato was introduced directly into England, where it rapidly obtained a position among the common vegetables of the garden. On the continent, however, its progress was attended with greater difficulty. The prejudices which existed against its general use were, however, combated with energy by certain men devoted to the public welfare, such as Duhamel du Monceau, Inspector-General of Naval Construction; Mgr. du Bar-ral, Bishop of Castres, and the Minister Turgot himself. It was reserved, however, to Monsieur Parmentier to succeed where so many able men had failed, and his success was due above all things to his perseverance and the tact with which he used his intimate knowledge of the character of les Parisiens. Instead of trying to convince them by argument, he undertook, with the consent of the King, Louis XVI, to plant potatoes on the plain of Les Sablons, and, surrounding his experiments with an air of mystery, he had the plot guarded by a cordon of troops, and thus succeeded in adding to the curiosity of the population. He then invited a number of scientific and influential men to a banquet where every dish was either composed chiefly of potatoes, or was served up with potatoes as an accompaniment. This proved the most eloquent demonstration possible of the culinary properties of the new vegetable, and his cause was gained. During the end of the eighteenth century and the early years of the nineteenth century the potato made great progress, and when, in 1813, the Central Society of Agriculture undertook to provide, as a basis for study of the culture of the potato, a collection of the varieties then in use throughout the French Empire, it brought together no less than 115 to 120 different kinds.
Count Rumford in the middle of the last century tells of the trouble he experienced in persuading the people of Munich to use the potato as food, even in a time of great scarcity. Only by his disguising the potato in a kind of soup did they gratefully accept his offering. "Gerarde, in his 'Herbal,' 1597, wrote as follows: ' Virginia potato hath many hollow, flexible branches trailing upon the ground; these are square, uneven, knotted or kneed in sundry places at certaine distances: from the which knots cometh forth one great leafe made of divers leaves, some smaller and other greater, set together upon a fat middle rib by couples, of a swart greene colour tending to rednesse; the whole leaf resembling those of the Winter-Cresses, but much larger; in taste at the first like grasse, but afterwards sharp and nipping the tongue. From the bosome of which leaves come forth long round slender foot stalkes, whereon grow very faire and pleasant floures, made of one entire whole leafe, which is folded or plaited in such strange sort, that it seemes to be a floure made of five sundry small leaves, which cannot easily be perceived, except the same be pulled open. The whole floure is of a light purple colour, striped downe the middle of every fold or welt with a light show of yellownesse, as if purple and yellow were mixed together. In the middle of the floure thrusteth forth a thicke flat point all yellow as gold, with a small sharp greene pricke or point in the midst thereof. The fruit succeeds the floures, round as a ball, of the bigness of a little Bullesse or wild plumme, green at the first, and blacke when it is ripe, wherein is contained small white seed lesser than those of mustard; the root is thicke, fat, and tuberous, not much differing either in shape, colour or taste from the common potatoes, saving that the roots hereof are not so great nor long; some of them are as round as a ball, some oval or egge-fashion, some longer, and others shorter; the knobby roots are fastened unto the stalkes with an infinite number of threddy strings. It groweth naturally in Americus where it was first discovered, as reporteth Clusia, since which time I have received roots hereof from Virginia, otherwise called Norembega, which grow and prosper in my garden as in their own native country. The leaves thrust forth of the ground in the beginning of May; the floures bud forth in August, the fruit is ripe in September. The Indians call this plant pappas, meaning the roots; by which name also the common potatoes are called in those Indian countries. We have its proper name mentioned in the title "Potatoes of Virginia." Because it hath not only the shape and proportion of potatoes but also the pleasant taste and vertues of the same, we may call it in English, Potatoes of America or Virginia.'"
The potato is receiving greater attention to-day than ever before in the history of the plant. In the countries where it is most needed for food there has been the greatest development at the hands of man. Single tubers of new varieties in England have sold for fabulous prices, and new, improved sorts are jealously guarded by their originators.
Growers, Government and state experimenters, and other scientific men - in all countries - are now working for varieties that will produce the greatest possible tonnage of the highest class product, and for cultural methods best suited to accomplishing this.