The Galician potato, as inconspicuous as it is tasty

The exact day is unclear, it is only known that it was during the last third of the sixteenth century. The place was the monastery garden on Herbón, in Padrón. The protagonists are unknown: we can assume they were neighbours working for the monks. The fact is that in that place and at that precise moment something crucial to the history of Galicia happened: it is the first documented planting of potatoes in this part of the world.

This does not mean that they were the first to be planted, but it was the first mention that we have, according to the Consello Regulador da Indicación Xeográfica Protexida Pataca de Galicia, the entity in charge of ensuring the quality of this product. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Cardinal Jerónimo de Hoyo wrote in some memoirs that in Herbón “potatoes were planted by order of Archbishop Don Francisco Blanco (1574-1581); many were harvested, but were of poor quality”.

The tuber was introduced in Galicia very early on. The delicious solanum tuberosum was a plant that grew around Peru and Bolivia until the Spanish conquerors discovered it. It did not arrive in Europe until the mid-sixteenth century, first introduced as cheap food for cattle and, also, for the sick and the poor, and then its consumption extended to all social classes. It is said that, at first, its beautiful flowers were used as ornaments. In Galicia its cultivation spread mainly in the eighteenth century leaving records of its plantation in writings about fees to be paid to landowners or litigation between producers. Town after town, the whole country ended up surrendering to the gastronomic and nutritional values ​​of the modest American visitor.

Endless varieties of this tuber exist, and several of them are cultivated in Galicia , depending on the areas and even on the tastes of those who plant them. But the certified Galician potato is of the Kenebec variety. The Indicación Xeográfica Protexida defines some basic characteristics for it. Thus, the tubers must have a round or oval shape, with very superficial eyes (sprouts). The skin must be smooth and thin, light yellow in colour, and the flesh firm and white while raw, creamy and tasty when cooked. This firmness and flavour remain once cooked.

Two are the keys to the unmistakable flavour of the Galician potato. One is the very land on which it is grown. The Regulatory Council reports that the producing areas usually have soils with a pH between 5 and 6.5, slightly acidic, which protects the plant from diseases and pests. The other key point is the many centuries during which it has been cultivated and a part of the daily diet.

Potatoes never go out of style, and are used as base in many contemporary dishes, but it is still the traditional cuisine that makes the best use of it: accompanying octopus á feira, as part of casseroles, giving consistency to the broth, completing a good stew … Any way is a good way to savour this product, so tightly linked to the history of the Community.

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