P is for “Potatis

P is for “potatis”, which is Swedish for potato.

This may not seem like much of thrilling concept, but the arrival of the lowly potato in Sweden was a transformation!

Let’s face it…up here in the frozen north, it’s hard to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables. Nowadays stuff is flown in year round, or grown in greenhouses. Not terribly ecological, but it means that today Swedes can get lots of produce in their diets. Things were different in the Old Days…when men were real men, women were real women, and food was scarce and not so healthy.

I mean, why do the British call turnips Swedes? A sad comment on the traditional diet here.

Potatoes come from South America, and were first brought to Europe by the Spanish Conquistadors. They probably were taken to this country, potatoes, not the Conquistadors, by soldiers returning from the Thirty Years War in the mid-17th century, and it turned out that these root veggies that had evolved in the chilly heights of the Andes thrived up here in the frozen north.

Potatoes became so important to the Swedish diet that there is even a tradition commemorating the person supposed to have introduced them here, the early 18th century industrial pioneer Jonas Alströmer. Like many legends this isn’t true…but Alströmer was very influential in popularizing potatoes here.

Another factor for the popularity of the potato here may be the fact that they are excellent for making vodka. Ten years ago Sweden produced 800,000 tons of potatoes, which was something like 100 kilos for every single person in the country. Consumption is somewhat lower, at about 65 kilos per person every year.

That is twice the world average, but, it must be confessed, only two-thirds of the European average. The biggest consumers all seem to be in the vodka belt, which may say something more about drinking habits rather than eating habits.

And you may not have known this, but 2008 is the International Year of the Potato! So scarf up those potatis.