It being the festive season, I was thinking about potatoes and reading Redcliffe Salaman’s majestic The History and Social Influence of the Potato, first published in 1949.
The book’s all good but I especially like this part of the preface, describing the toil that went into the writing. He says, ‘…there have not been wanting those who have regarded these activities with a shake of the head and an indulgent smile, indicating that nothing, short of mental instability, could excuse a lifelong attachment to the study of so banal a subject.’
Damn fools. You’ll get no head shaking from me. I love this stuff. I also love this passage from chapter two titled ‘The Archeological Record,’
‘Cieza de Leon gives a remarkable account of a scene observed by a priest in May 1547, and attested by him in Cieza’s presence. It relates how a great gathering of Indians took place at the call of the drum in Lampa in the Collao ...’ There was a parade of richly dressed young boys and girls, ‘Then followed native labourers with plough on shoulder succeeded by six pages, each with a bag of potatoes. After a ceremonial parade, and the labourers, holding the bags of potatoes high above their heads, had danced to the beating of the drums, there was brought in a one-year-old llama, “all of one colour”, and this was taken to the chief and then killed and its bowels withdrawn and given to the sorcerers. Then certain Indians collected all the blood they could from the llama and poured it on the potatoes in the bags. Unfortunately, at this critical moment an overzealous catechumen of only a few days standing arrived on the scene and, having denounced them all, dispersed the gathering.’
Well, I’ve never consumed llama blood, though I’ve eaten plenty of black pudding. I also know there are sources of llama meat, imported from Argentina, but I’m sure it’s not the same as freshly slaughtered entrails.
Thoughts of potatoes and strange rituals inevitably make me think of Brian Harvey, of the boy band East 17.
A tragic figure in many ways, he’s the man most famous for eating three baked potatoes and then, at one in the morning, getting in his car to drive over to a pal’s place. However the baked potatoes sat uneasily in his stomach, and he knew he was about to throw up. He opened the car door, so as to vomit outside the car's interior, as anyone might. However, the car’s motor was still running and the car was in gear, and Brian managed to fall out of the car, which then ran over him.
Brian’s not looking so great these days – it may have nothing to do with potatoes.
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