Potato Facts

The History of Potatoes in Oregon

William N. Wise - February 1996
The Library of Congress
Dictionary of Oregon History F874.C6 Corning pp 202-203

Potatoes - The first recorded planting of potatoes in the Oregon Country was made by the crew of the ship 'Ruby' (qv) under Captain Bishop, on an island in the Columbia River, near Cape Disappointment in 1795. At Fort Astoria (qv) twelve shriveled potatoes, all that remained of a supply brought from New York by the Astor ship 'Tonquin' (qv) were planted in May 1811; these produced 190 potatoes the first season and permitted the sending of a few plants to inland traders. In 1812 fifty to sixty hills planted at the fort produced five bushels; in 1813 two bushels planted produced fifty bushels. At Fort Vancouver (qv) 1,300 bushels of potatoes were produced in 1835. From the time farming first began at Fort Astoria until enough wheat was raised to support the inhabitants, potatoes were the main substitute for bread. Indian chieftains, to whom a few of the tubers were given, failed to see any advantage in what they termed "Boston Root" over their own popular Wapato root, and did not go in for potato cultivation except in a desultory way. With pioneer settlement, potatoes became a generally increased crop and a staple of diet. In the Willamette Valley, in the 1880's, their extensive cultivation brought fame to John Dimick as the "potato king" (CGHO, II:680.81.)

Potato Trivia

  • Peru's Inca Indians were the first to cultivate potatoes around 200 B.C. The potatoes they grew ranged in size from a small nut to an apple, and in colors from red and gold to blue and black. The Incas also used potatoes to measure time - correlating units of time by how long it took potatoes to cook.
  • The Spanish conquistadors discovered the potato in 1537 in the Andean village of Sorocota. They took potatoes with them on their return trip to Europe, where it had a difficult time being accepted. The potato, a member of the nightshade family, was considered by many to be poisonous or evil. With the help of Prussia's King Frederick William, France's Antoine-August Parmentier, and England's Sir Walter Raleigh - who introduced the potato to Ireland, the potato was soon popularized throughout Europe.
  • The first potatoes arrived in North America in 1621 when Captain Nathaniel Butler, then Governor of Bermuda, sent two large cedar chests containing potatoes and other vegetables to Francis Wyatt, Governor of Virginia at Jamestown.
  • It reputedly took seven transatlantic crossings before the potato gained acceptance in America. In fact, the potato did not really become popular until discovered by Benjamin Franklin. While ambassador to France, he attended a banquet hosted by Parmentier at which the potato was served 20 different ways. Franklin returned to America singing the praises of the potato as the ultimate vegetable. Americans followed the lead of trendsetting Franklin, and soon the potato was being cultivated in the colonies and in remote regions of the western frontier.
  • French fries were introduced to Americans when President Thomas Jefferson served them at the White House.
  • Potato chips were invented by mistake. The year was 1853, and Railroad Magnate Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt was dining at a fashionable resort in Saratoga Springs, New York. He sent his fried potatoes back to the kitchen complaining they were too thick. To spite his haughty guest, Chef George Crum sliced some potatoes paper thin, fried them in hot oil, and salted them. To everyone's surprise, Vanderbilt loved his "Saratoga Crunch Chips", and potato chips have been popular ever since.
  • By 1825 potatoes were being harvested from the Fort Vancouver garden of Dr. John McLoughlin, who specifically ordered them to keep his soldiers from developing scurvy. According to the earliest records, the fort garden produced 900 bushels of potatoes, and in 1832 more than 15,000 bushels of potatoes were gathered. Much of McLoughlin's seed potatoes went to start Oregon pioneer gardens.
  • Potatoes have been an important crop in Oregon since it became a state. During the gold rush in Northern California, surplus potatoes from Oregon were packed by mule train, and later by wagon train to the miners. In 1849, four bushels of Oregon potatoes were selling for $500 in San Francisco. Oregon farmers thus dug potatoes and struck gold.
  • Oregon potato farmers harvested 35,000 acres in 2006 yielding over 1.8 billion pounds of potatoes.
  • Oregon has one of the highest yields per acre of potatoes in the world at 53,000 pounds of potatoes per acre!
  • 75% of Oregon potatoes are processed into food products such as frozen french fries for fast food restaurants, hash browns, chips, dehydrated flakes, soups, etc. Up to 15% of these products go to foreign markets such as Japan, Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines, Mexico, South America, etc.
  • Nearly 25% of all french fries exported from the United States come from Oregon.
  • Oregon potatoes account for more value added production than any other crop grown in the state. This results in the marketing of over $250 million worth of fresh and processed potatoes each year.
  • The average American eats 134 pounds of potatoes a year, or over 365 potatoes per person per year - that's an average of more than one potato a day.
  • The potato is the second most consumed food in the United States - trailing only after milk products.
  • Contrary to a common misconception, potatoes are not high in calories. One medium sized potato contains 110 calories, while a one-cup serving of rice has 225 calories, and a cup of pasta has 155 calories.
  • Potatoes are one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. One medium sized potato has fewer calories than a grapefruit, more potassium than a banana, and more usable iron than any other vegetable. Potatoes are also high in fiber, and loaded with complex carbohydrates. And best of all, potatoes are fat-free.

Potato Varieties

Image descriptionRusset Burbank

Harvested in the fall, this full season fresh market and processing russet has been popular for decades. Its long shape, medium russet skin and white flesh make it an excellent potato for baking and frozen french fries.

Image descriptionRusset Norkotah

This is a very early fresh market russet harvested in mid-summer. Its attractive long or oblong shape boasts heavy russet skin with white flesh and is a great choice for boiling or baking.

Image descriptionShepody

This early season processing potato is marked by white to light buff skin and white flesh. Its oblong shape lends itself perfectly to processing into french fries or other frozen potato products.

Image descriptionRanger Russet

This is one of the newest russet varieties for processing. Its long, slightly flat shape has medium russet skin and white flesh. Its harvest begins in the fall.

Image descriptionAtlantic

A strikingly round shape, netted buff skin and white flesh tells you it's an Atlantic. Used mainly for processing into potato chips, this potato is harvested in late summer.

Image descriptionLa Soda

If this fresh market potato is harvested in late summer you have "new potatoes." But it's also harvested at full maturity in the fall. Characterized by light red skin, white flesh and a round to oval shape, you'll find it good for boiling and other table uses.

Image descriptionYukon Gold

This mid-season fresh market potato has buff skin with light yellow flesh and an oval to round shape. Harvested in the fall, its rich buttery flavor is perfect for boiling and baking.

Image descriptionDark Red Norland

This is the most widely grown early season fresh market red variety in Oregon. Its medium oblong shape is marked by smooth, red to dark red skin with white flesh. It's great for boiling and steaming, with excellent color after cooking.