Author and French cookery expert Mardi Michels reveals that the French were rather slow to embrace the humble spud, considering it only good for animal fodder.
Hachis (the “h” and the “s” are silent) Parmentier is a classic French comfort-food dish popular the world over (and known as Shepherd’s Pie in the English-speaking world) but do you know the origin behind its name? The word “parmentier” is used to refer to any dish prepared with potatoes. These dishes are named for pharmacist Antoine-Augustin Parmentier (1737-1813) who spent his life promoting the potato, having learned of their nutritional value when he was a prisoner of war in Germany. Determined to change public opinion about the humble spud – the French viewed potatoes as only fit for animal consumption, he began to grow potatoes in and around Paris.
In fact, in 1773, he even won a prize for showcasing the potato as a useful crop in the event of a famine. Slowly but surely, public opinion began to turn in favour of pommes de terre (no doubt helped along by the fact that potato crops in Paris were “guarded” by the army – making them seem like an in-demand commodity). Parmentier spent his life educating the masses about potatoes – how to grow them and, crucially, how to prepare them. He even catered a dinner for Benjamin Franklin at Les Invalides where the menu consisted of only potato-based dishes (a surefire way to instill confidence in the public!). Who would have imagined that such a staple had such a troubled rise to popularity?
From France Today magazine
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