“Po-ta-toes! Boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew!”
Ahh… potatoes. For those of you who fit the dual Lord-of-the-Rings-fanatic and potato-lover demographic, you no doubt recognize the line that Sam barked out to Gollum when cooking rabbit in The Two Towers. I can’t resist sharing it here (check out 0:20-0:30).
Potatoes are a great Jewish food, at least for those of us who are of Ashkenazi descent. They’re hearty, they can grow in cold climate and dirt (i.e. the shtetl), they pack a solid nutritional punch (at least when they’re not cooked with gallons of oil), and you can buy ten pounds of taters for like three dollars at Market Basket, satisfying our need to be frugal.
They also feature prominently in a whole bunch of Jewish holidays. The Chanukah connection is obvious (you can click to my famous hybrid latke recipe here), at Passover we use vats of potato flour and potato starch instead of regular flour, potato salad is an old Shavuot standby, and what self-respecting Rosh Hashanah or Sukkot dinner doesn’t have sweet potato tzimmes on the table? No doubt you have also had cholent that’s chock-full-o’-potatoes as well on a Shabbat afternoon somewhere.
Did you also know that a potato is an acceptable substitute for parsley to be the karpas on a seder plate, or that you can make a potato battery, or that potatoes were first harvested in the Andes Mountains and not brought to Europe until the 16th century, or that the average American eats over 140 pounds of potatoes each year?
I marvel at the dirty, bumpy, unpredictably-shaped, somewhat bulbous, and generally indestructible potato. Its rough-and-tumble mentality and an overall can-do attitude mirrors the survivalist mentality of the Jewish people… perhaps that’s why it’s always potato season in Judaism.
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