The Eyes have it

I enjoyed news this week that Peru are planning to send 1500 varieties of potato to a (self-styled) doomsday vault in Svalbad.  I am probably not alone in wondering if they should also have sent some marmalade sandwiches – and, perhaps, an extra hard stare to keep them safe from ne’er-do-wells en route.

The post doomsday drama seems a popular feature on our television and cinema screens (I believe Outcasts is the latest stroll down this well-trodden path).  However, none of these (to my knowledge) has involved a trip up to the Arctic circle to gather “seeds”, followed by chitting.  For those less green-fingered readers, to chit a potato is not (as my schoolboy-self might have imagined) to place it in detention but instead to place the seed spuds somewhere cool and light to encourage strong, sturdy shoots before planting.   I suspect post-apocalyptic society would be a much happier place with the prospect of new potatoes on the horizon (and mayhap the hope of chips to come) – especially, if the Svalbad facility also contains some seeds which when grown could provide a tasty accompaniment.  I well remember the very child-like joy of thrusting my hands into the “sack” where I grew my spuds last year (for the very first time!) and being rewarded with white gold.

Little could Sir Walter Rayleigh when he (allegedly) brought back potatoes to these shores – and before he went on to start bicycle production in the city of my birth, Nottingham – have imagined his “discovery” would aid the restoration of civilisation after some future cataclysm.  Apologies for the hedging (and any inaccuracies) involved in the last sentence (though, hedging as a craft skill is in decline, so I am pleased to give it some prominence in this blog), but I would have to admit my knowledge of Sir Wally is a little shaky.  When I studied history it was (a) a lot more recent, (b) rather smaller in volume and (c) covered only the period from the English Civil War up to (but not including) the outbreak of the First World War.  As a result, I think I missed all of the history currently taught to our young people or used as the basis for television documentaries – starting as I did after the Tudors (and so the period when pirates – like Rayleigh – were British and preyed on the Spanish potato galleons) and stopping well before the Nazis.

The humble spud has, it would seem, conquered the world.  It underpinned the Industrial Revolution and according to Engels (a biography of whom I am currently reading) it was the equal of iron – though, I would have to admit it left fewer bridges, railways or steamships in its wake and no great potato-linked characters to equal “Iron Mad” Wilkinson.  It is grown and eaten on every continent (except Antarctica, where I believe frost, blight or maybe Colorado beetle prevents its successful cultivation) even if we don’t consider its inexplicably popular fried forms: chips and crisps (or “French” fries and chips for our US readers).  By the way, I am thinking of creating my own range of healthy, organic chips (probably to be sold through Waitrose, perhaps under the Duchy Original’s brand) aimed at the Twitterati and the Radio4 audience under the brand name of Stephen Fries – surely, even the most staunchly (or, is rabidly the right word?) Republican of our friends across the herring pond could not object to chips so-monikered?

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8 thoughts on “The Eyes have it

  1. Stuart Ffoulkes says:

    I wonder if you might be thinking of Lord Rayleigh – who was born John William Strutt, but later inherited his father’s title to become 3rd Baron Rayleigh – who is credited with explaining why the sky is blue (it’s all down to Rayleigh scattering of sunlight). He also won the 1904 Nobel Prize for Physics for discovering argon (in fact, he seems to have had quite a full prize cabinet) – but by the time he came around both potatoes and tobacco had already been discovered by Europeans. He was also significantly too late to use his cloak to preserve Good Queen Bess from wet feet, though had he the inclination he could still have indulged in a little piracy against the Spanish.

    He spent a good chunk of his career in Cambridge, succeeding James Clerk Maxwell and teaching JJ Thompson (which does rather put finding argon in its place). The Barony of Rayleigh itself is in Essex (and is now on its 6th baron), the county of his birth and later demise. I have been unable to ascertain his opinion on potatoes – though as a member of the aristocracy he has at least one thing in common with King Edwards and Jersey Royals.

  2. Stuart Ffoulkes says:

    I am not so easily defeated!

    How about a range of chips for those with a social conscience? I’m thinking they would be marketed under the Quaker brand and be called Elizabeth Fries?

    Or, po-mo chips for the art lover called Roger Fries? These would be marketed under the slogan, “incomparably the greatest influence on taste since Ruskin” (quoting the historian – currently being repeated in HD – Kenneth Clark). Curiously, another Quaker influence here as well – and here was I thinking they just did oats.

    Oh dear, I think I may have started something here…

  3. Stuart Ffoulkes says:

    I knew this was going to be trouble…

    Fried potato products for the more intellectual consumer:

    For those interested in the early history of the scientific method, I can offer your either Roger smokey Bacon or Francis smokey Bacon flavoured crisps.

    To continue the Victorian philanthropists motif, I am also offering Titus ready Salted (or Titus Salt and vinegar) crisps.

    But can you do better (let’s face it worse is looking tricky)…

  4. matathew says:

    All this talk of junk food is giving me a craving for the preferred snack of the intellectual gourmet, the Kettle Freud Crisp (the advertising campaign would subtly target particular fixations), but my big money spinner would be the Quentin Crisp, a snack with delightfully artistic brand appeal, intended to be purchased mainly by the pink pound.

  5. Stuart Ffoulkes says:

    I had been toying with the Quentin Crisp myself (ooh, er, missus) – for the same reasons as yourself, but had decided I should hold back.

    I was also thinking of targeting the Christian pilgrim market with my Cheese and Bunyan flavoured offering (which, in the US, could also work with giant woodcutters). What better snack to enjoy on the way to Canterbury or Santiago de Compostela?

    Really, I must try harder to resist the temptation this post has set forth upon the unsuspecting world of blog.

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