The Spud Diaries

Around the world and throughout history, the stubborn tuber has held its own, inviting both ridicule and praise.

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.