There was a great post today on The Recipes Project about Potatoes written by Amanda Herbert. There’s some great information in Dr. Herbert’s work, take a look at it here:

Some key bits:

By 1500, the sweet potato had become an established crop in western Europe.  “Common,” or white potatoes, took a bit longer to catch on; they arrived in Europe as a cultivable vegetable between 1550-1570.

Britain was one of the last European countries to take to the potato; the first mention of potatoes (sweet or otherwise) in a printed British book was in 1596, when famed herbalist and botanist John Gerard included it in his Catalogue. This was apparently so well-received that a year later, Gerard devoted an entire chapter of his famous 1597 Herbal to this new and unfamiliar plant.

Which reminded me that the Herball often has brief explanations of how to eat the items listed. So off I went to the original.

You can access the facsimile of the 1597 version here but here are the three important pages (you can click on them to enlarge them):

The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes (1597) p781
The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes (1597) p782
The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes (1597) p780

The key information to know about potatoes for our purposes:

  • They are divided into two categories:
    • Sisarum Peruvianum – called “potatoes” and were likely sweet potatoes
    • Battata Virginiana – called “potatoes of Virginia” and were likely white potatoes
  • They’re a “common and ordinarie” food, essentially food for the less well to do, and they provide a great deal of nutrients.
  • Virginian potatoes taste like parsnips and can be used the same way

Information given on preparing sweet potatoes:

  • The general preparation is to roast them in ashes
  • They taste best after being “roasted in the embers” and then “sopped in wine”
  • they can also be made into conserves like quinces
  • They are great for carving into bases for confection work (I love the phrase “cunning confectioner or sugar baker”)
  • They can be boiled with prunes instead of baking them
  • They can be roasted then dressed with oil, vinegar and salt
  • Regardless of how they’re prepared they’re tasty

Information on preparing white potatoes:

  • They can be roasted in embers
  • They can be boiled and eaten with oil, vinegar, and pepper
  • they taste great in any preparation, and chefs are encouraged to experiment


There are a few great methods there. I think the next time I make mashed potatoes I’ll put in oil, vinegar, salt and pepper to see how someone in the late 16th century would have eaten them.


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