28 October 2011

that's a lot of potatoes

Before coming to Prince Edward Island, I knew two things about it:
  • OH MY WORD, GREEN GABLES {follow that link to read more about Anne and more specifically, more about me visiting Anne. I mean Green Gables.}
  • I would be running a half-marathon here.

And the rest, I thought, was just gravy, not realizing how appropriate that expression is when applied to PEI.

Prince Edward Island is the potato capital of Canada, and in the town of O'Leary in the western part of the province, there's a museum called the Prince Edward Island Potato Museum. As my guidebook says, "Don't be put off by the name; this museum is an interesting stop that depicts the history of Prince Edward Island's most famous crop."

Despite the guidebook encouraging me to not judge a book by its cover {to not judge a potato by its skin?}, I was cautious of that tepid, faint praise word: interesting. I half-expected the book to add: "No, for real, guys, it's a good museum. Not kidding at all. Seriously, you'll love it."

And then the book would snicker, if it could.

An interesting potato museum would probably be some styrofoam models of potatoes: and here is a new potato, and here is a Russett. They'd be painted with that craft paint you get at Hobby Lobby, the kind that costs $1 for 12 bottles.

A rather interesting potato museum would include some digs at Idaho, the potato capital of America.

Any way you slice it, a potato museum doesn't sound all that interesting on its own, even if you do make French fries out of it.

My mama wanted to go to the potato museum, though, off in Prince County on the western side of PEI, so on an overcast day—and after eating a four-course breakfast at our inn in Kensington—we pulled onto Highway 2.

As a sidenote, directions on this entire Island are given as if you were in a small town: Get on Highway 2—it's the only road that goes all the way across the Island—and when you cross the river and there's a park on your left and a church on your right, veer to the left there. If you reach the woolen mill, you've gone too far, and you can turn around in the building that used to be the Community Centre.

But then we arrived at the potato museum, and I was handed a brochure that read:
Prince Edward Island Potato Museum featuring
The National Amazing Potato Interpretive Centre,
Machine Gallery,
and O'Leary Community Museum

National Amazing Potato!

Interpretive Centre! {How British, that spelling! Doesn't the -re make it look more dignified?!?}

Put it all together now: The National Amazing Potato Interpretive Centre.

There is no hint of a bland interesting in a title like that.

And it turns out that the Prince Edward Island Potato Museum is fascinating, insightful, educational, and hungry-making.

I learned that:
  • the Incans used to preserve their potatoes by leaving them outside and waiting for the first freeze. Then they'd walk on top of them and squish them down to get all the water out. And bam, freeze-dried potatoes. I'm glad we've advanced beyond that, and I can now pull tater tots out of my freezer and know they haven't been stepped on by anyone.
  • Sir Walter Raleigh is often credited with bringing potatoes to Britain, but that's a total lie. {He did, however, bring back tobacco. It'd be better to be known for potatoes, of course.}
  • 2008 was the Year of the Potato, according to the United Nations. Why did I not know this? I could've celebrated by eating potatoes every day. Maybe it's a good thing I didn't know.
  • The Irish refused to plant potatoes when they were first introduced to the country. They thought they were unholy because they weren't mentioned in the Bible. The Catholics sprinkled some holy water on them and called it good, although if they could've foreseen the Irish Potato Famine, they maybe would've stuck with the whole "of the devil" thing.
  • Antoine-Auguste Parmentier, a French guy, in case you couldn't tell from his name, made potatoes ridiculously popular in France in the 1700s—and whatever was popular in France then soon became popular everywhere because who wouldn't want to be like the fancy French?

    The story is that he ate potatoes while in a Prussian prisoner of war camp, and he was all, "Oh la la, these things are actually good! And here I thought they caused leprosy!" {Seriously, French people at the time thought that.}

    When he got out of prison, he started this personal campaign to get French people to love potatoes, and he went to such drastic measures as hosting dinner parties where the only thing on the menu was potatoes and inviting people like Benjamin Franklin and you know, famous French people.

    He was helped out in his campaign by a famine; potatoes were the only thing that would grow, leaving Parmentier free to say things like, "Even God loves potatoes more than any other crop. You better eat them, or you'll be smitted...smitten...smoted...by God." {Please note, he didn't actually say that. I totally just made that up, but I like to believe that that would've been a convincing argument.}

    It also didn't hurt that he gave a bouquet of potato blossoms to the Queen.

    In the end, Antoine-Auguste convinced the French to love something they had previously distrusted, and now he's buried in Pere-Lachaise Cemetery {where Jim Morrison is}, and if a dish has the word "parmentier" in it, it most likely involves potatoes.

    And that, my friends, is how you change the French language.

I learned more, but everything I learned doesn't compare to the amount of potatoes I ate on PEI, as you can see below. So, so many potatoes. Like potatoes at every meal. I felt like I was channeling my Irish ancestors {before they got kicked out of the country by the famine}.

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