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Potatoes: Such an Exemplary Vegetable

Today’s guest post is from Carlyn Grace Osborn, a librarian on temporary assignment to the Science Reference Section at the Library of Congress. You can usually find her over on the Signal blog, where she writes about the By the People crowdsourced transcription program and shares information on new collections on the Library’s website.


Front cover of the 1918 Book of Potato Cookery in which the authors calls the potato a noble tuber

Front cover of Mrs. Mary Wade’s 1918 “Book of Potato Cookery.”

We write a lot about food here in the Library’s Science, Technology & Business Division: gravy, pumpkin pie, Texas sheet cake, chocolate chip cookies and a 1904 vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner to name a few. But, what about…potatoes?

Potatoes! “Such an exemplary vegetable,” according to Cousin Collins in the 2005 movie version of Pride and Prejudice. Although true Jane Austen fans will know that potatoes are not mentioned in the original book, here at the Library of Congress, potatoes are referenced throughout the collections.

How many potato recipes?

Among the Library’s 173 million items are cookbooks of all shapes and sizes, including cookbooks devoted solely to the potato. If you ever wanted 101 ways to prepare a potato, you need look no further than:

If 101 ways won’t cut it, how about 250 Ways to Serve Potatoes (1949)? Or, then again, how about 300 Ways of Cooking and Preparing Potatoes (1907)? The Library currently has around 152 cookbooks dedicated to the potato. You can browse the potato cookery books by using the subject heading, Cooking (Potatoes), in our online catalog.

Black and white photograph of a potato field with child, dog and a wagon. circa 1916

Potato field, ca 1916. From the National Photo Company Collection, Library of Congress.

Potato history

In addition to cookbooks, the Library’s collections have a wide array of materials that can be used to study individual foods and their history. Potatoes, originating in the Andean highlands over 8,000 years ago, can be studied from a variety of angles, including using contemporary foodways, genetics, cultural diffusion, cultivation, domestication and more. If you’re planning on enjoying potatoes this holiday season, check out these books to learn a little bit more about where this spud came from: Potato: a History of the Propitious Esculent (2009)The History and Social Influence of the Potato (1985), and Potato: A Global History (2011).

To find more spud-tacular books about the Solanum tuberosum (potato), explore titles under these subject headings in our online catalog:

Potatoes across the Library

The Science & Business Research Center isn’t the only place at the Library of Congress where you can discover the potato! Potatoes are found across the Library’s many research centers and in our digital collections. Check out these potato-related items from around the Library of Congress.

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