Potato Salad and Inca Pots

It being the celebration of Independence Day and the birth of the US, I suppose I should have been reading about the Revolutionary War, much of which took place here in New England. However, I really don’t like reading about fighting and killing and the strategies of generals. I rather read about food and houses and domestic sorts of things from our past. So, in honor of the Fourth of July, I read Potato: A Global History by Andrew F. Smith. What is a Fourth of July celebration without potato salad? Indeed, what is summer without potato salad?

Read a book on almost any topic in history, and sooner or later you will come to a reference to ceramics. And sure enough, Andrews gets to it in the very first chapter of his book.

Potatoes originated in South America. Seven species were grown and eaten by Andean farmers probably as early as 10,000 BCE. They were easy to grow, nutritious, tasty and suitable to the rugged terrain. “Depictions of potatoes have been found on pottery,” Andrews writes, “including pieces from the Moche, Chimú, Nazca and other pre-Columbian civilizations that flourished and disappeared before the advent of the Inca.” It’s amazing how much archaeologists and historians have learned about ancient cultures from the images that potters put on their pots!

Later, writing about the Inca, Andrews tells us that, “some {of their} pottery resembled potatoes, while others showed potatoes with human faces.” What? The first Mr. Potato Head was made by an Inca potter?

The images in the book are not the best, but there are two Andean potato pots. One, from the Proto-Chimu period is of two potatoes one atop the other, with a spout and stirrup handle. The other, shown here, is an Inca pot made to look like a potato with many eyes. It has a slightly flared neck. Sadly, he does not credit these two photos, so I can’t tell where the pots are today.

I will serve my potato salad in one of my simple baking dishes. I have never made a bowl or jar shaped like a potato (at least not on purpose). But for a few fleeting moments, I imagine myself going into the studio and making a potato bowl with eyes and lumps and glazing it brown on the outside and white on the inside. But no, that would be tacky. At least anything I attempted would look tacky. Maybe, though, in honor of the Andean farmers who domesticated the potato, and the Andean potters who depicted them in their art, I will make just one. For fun.

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