The Spud Diaries

Around the world and throughout history, the stubborn tuber has held its own, inviting both ridicule and praise. It inspired “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” the Gershwins’ 1937 hit song (“You like po-tato, and I like po-tahto.”)

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we selected a few highlights from the dramatic life of that tuberous vegetable, the potato, since its discovery in South America thousands of years ago.

  • During the 1620s, the British governor of the Bahamas sent a gift box of Solanum tuberosum to the governor of the Virginia colony, but the potato remained a culinary outcast until Thomas Jefferson served them to guests at the White House.
  • Invented in 1949 and sold by Hasbro in 1952, Mr. Potato Head is an American toy that consists of a plastic potato and attachable plastic parts, such as ears and eyes, to make a face.
  • In the late 1700s, to allay public suspicion of the plant, Louis XVI began to sport a potato flower in his buttonhole, and Marie Antoinette wore the purple potato blossom in her hair.
  • In Woody Allen’s 1979 film Manhattan, the character Isaac Davis (played by Allen) lists Louis Armstrong’s recording of “Potato Head Blues” as one of the reasons that life is worth living.
  • During the The Great Famine in Ireland (1845-1849), many Irish survived on milk and potatoes alone. The two together provide essential vitamins and minerals.
  • Charles Darwin was an early admirer. In his traveling log he wrote, “It is remarkable that the same plant should be found on the sterile mountains of Central Chile, where a drop of rain does not fall for more than six months, and within the damp forests of the southern islands.”
  • The vegetable is venerated at Lawry’s on La Cienega. Their baked potato is served with a flag and a poem:
    I’m a genuine Idaho® Potato.
    There is no need to act discreetly!
    I’ve been tubbed!
    I’ve been scrubbed!
    It’s quite all right
    To eat me completely!
  • In 1986, Alison Armstrong published The Joyce of Cooking, featuring Irish national recipes from James Joyce’s Dublin, based on literature by the famous author.
  • At Palos Verdes High School in February 2012, a 15-year-old engineering student fired a potato out of a bazooka made entirely of plumbing pipes. To the amazement of the crowd, the five-inch russet soared over the trees and landed on the football field 350 yards away, eliciting a fleeing cry from a terrified, though unharmed, lacrosse player.