Image via Wikpiedia

The Fascinating History of the Baked Potato

The versatile spud has a long history in various locations around the world

If you like to eat; like really like to eat, the main dish is naturally the star attraction. However, the sides should never be neglected and there are some great ones out there that have become cult classics over the years. Consider the versatile baked potato, which not only remains as popular now as it has for years but also has some interesting origins.

Trailing only rice, wheat and corn, potatoes are the fourth largest annual food crop in the world. They were first cultivated by the Inca around 8,000–5,000 B.C. and carried back to Europe in the 1,500s A.D. after Spanish Conquistadors conquered Peru. From there, their ease of growing and eating quickly made them a staple in many other countries.

Baking potatoes were a convenience for earlier kitchens. Not only did they not require any water to cook or clean, overcooking them did little to detract from the taste or texture of the desired interior flesh. With most homes having fires going mostly non-stop, baking potatoes was literally a simple matter of throwing something on the stove.

In truth, there is no known specific a-ha moment when the baked potato was “invented.” The simplicity of the tuber roasting in the embers of a fire or the back of an oven was incredibly rudimentary and likely to have been around far longer than we might imagine. Given its popularity in various regions of the world, it would be difficult to pinpoint exactly who had the initial idea:

England- A common food for centuries, at one time in the 19th century they were hawked by street vendors, especially selling like hot cakes (potatoes) in the colder months, which coincided with their harvesting schedule. Buyers used the spuds as convenient hand warmers by stuffing the piping hot “jacket” potatoes in their coat pockets for warmth before ultimately eating them. It was once estimated that 10 tons of baked potatoes were sold daily in London at the height of this craze.

Vendors often collaborated with bakers to use their ovens, baking up to 75 potatoes at a time before placing them in “potato cans” to keep them hot, while also having compartments for butter and seasonings. From there it’s easy to connect the dots to how they became staples in steak houses and restaurants around the world.

Armenia- in rural villages near Lake Sevan, a variation on the baked potato known as p’ur has existed for some time. Unseasoned potatoes are slowly baked in a fire of dried cow dung, which is a fuel that smolders for an extensive period of time.

The United States- Although earlier Americans enjoyed baked potatoes similar to their English counterparts, the more modern version came in large part due to the efforts of the Northern Pacific Railroad. In the early 20th century, the company’s dining car superintendent, Hazen Titus, became enamored with the enormous Idaho potatoes, often weighing 2–5 pounds, that were considered unwieldy for traditional cooking and thus fed to hogs. However, he found them to be delicious when baked for a long period of time and began to promote them and incorporate them into menus.

Variations of baked potatoes also have long-standing popularity in India, Japan, Brazil, Russia and many other places around the world. With such an abundant and hearty crop, it should come as little surprise that so many cultures found a way to utilize such a nutritious and tasty item.

Food fads and new delectable will come and go. However, it’s a safe bet that the potato; specifically the baked potato, is here to stay and will remain as popular in the future as its been now for hundreds of years.

Dabbler in history & writing. Master’s degree in baseball history. Passionate about diversity, culture, sports, investing and education.

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