Friday, September 02, 2011

The Fifty Dollar Potato, and the Duke’s Merino Ram.

I was browsing for some interesting additions to the Funwith Potatoes Archive  (which is badly in need of updating, I admit), and came across a wonderful story I must share with you. Be aware that the really funny part is about a merino ram, not a potato.

The story is told at the beginning of a thoughtful article called The Potato Mania, written by Henry Ward Beecher for Best’s Potato Book (Utica, 1870).  I do hope you enjoy it.

“Sometime during the winter of 1868-60, happening into the seed store of B. K, Bliss & Son, in New York, we fell, as usual, into a talk about Seeds, Flowers, Farming, &c. An amateur farmer is fond of such like topics; real farmers are not averse to them. The potato came in, of course, for its share, and then it was that Mr. Bliss mentioned the "Fifty Dollar Potato," ("Bresee's King of the Earlies," or his "Seedling No. 4.")  The "Early Rose" had not yet spent its force; it was sold by the pound, and at what seemed extravagant prices, but the "Early Rose," at its highest price, was cheap compared with
Bresee's new "Fifty Dollar Potato." For a single tuber. Fifty Dollars! My father had brought up a large family in Old Connecticut, on a salary of Eight Hundred Dollars a year. He sometimes dabbled a little in farming. I recollect once, on his return home from a journey, to have heard him gently chide my mother for not accepting an offer of twenty-five cents a bushel for a large field of potatoes which we had that year cultivated. He thought she had missed a chance that would not come again. There were
about two hundred bushels. If any man had then said that within a few years a single potato would sell for the price of two hundred bushels, he would have been laughed to scorn. Why! sixteen fifty dollar potatoes would have equalled the whole salary of the Litchfield pastor! Here would be a task worthy of an economist, to bring up eight or ten children on the value of sixteen potatoes a year!

But this was an exceptional case, everyone will say. No potato was ever worth fifty dollars, nor ever will be. Why not? If an article is put upon the market quietly, without puffing or misrepresentation, and fifty sober, practical men, who earn their money by the hardest, and part with it only on good reasons, are willing to pay fifty dollars for a single tuber, on what ground is it said to be not worth that sum? Not, certainly, for immediate culinary purposes. A dish of fifty dollar potatoes on the table for vegetables, ought to have "the Duke's Merino Ram" for the meat; - the story running that, having paid five hundred guineas for a Merino, he sent it home with word to the steward to prepare dinner for some friends that he purposed bringing. The steward, ignorant of the value of the animal, had him killed and served for dinner. This was the costliest bit of mutton, we suspect, that ever passed a Duke's lips - or a King's either; but Oh! if he had had fifty-dollar-a-piece potatoes at the same time! That Merino Ram was not worth five hundred guineas on the dinner table, but might he not be worth much more than that as the father of a long line of posterity? What a potato is worth in the dish, is one
thing, and what it is worth in the field, is another. A farmer could afford to give a hundred dollars apiece for a few potatoes that were in quality as good as the "Mercer," and twice as productive. A
potato like the "Early Rose," admirable in quality, productive, and ten days earlier than former sorts, was worth, to the originator of it, a small fortune,' and he ought to have made one, though we doubt if he ever did; for, in this much mismanaged world, inventors seldom make fortunes, and originators of new comestible articles see others making the money, and have themselves to be contented with a mere reputation; an excellent thing in its way, but not negotiable for goods and commodities, or discounts. 

Nature is very shy of trusting men with too much power. If she blesses one with genius, she is apt to hold back a little in the matter of common sense. If she sets up a man in ideas and inventive qualities, she gives to somebody else the money-making tact; and on the other hand, if she sets up a man with great skill to make and keep money, she does not think it right to give him everything, and so she is apt to keep back a considerable part of the heart, and of that disposition which produces happiness. That is one reason why we find so many men that are rich and wretched. But all this does not alter the fact that an inventor of a good machine, the originator of a new fruit, the patient experimenter who brings out a better vegetable than was in market before, deserves an ample fortune. If Mr. Bresee's diligence in improving the potato has given to millions a better article, to gardeners an earlier and more productive one, he has increased the wealth of the country immensely, and he ought to share in that wealth. But only by a large price for one or two years, can he secure any adequate remuneration for his toil.”

As the Recipe for the Day, I give you a fine and elegant idea for lamb and potatoes which is quite suitable for your next dinner party, from New Receipts for Cooking, by Eliza Leslie (1854)

LAMB CUTLETS, (a French dish)
Cut a loin of lamb into chops. Remove all the fat, trim them nicely, scrape the bone, and see that it is the same length in all the cutlets. Lay them in a deep dish, and cover them with salad oil. Let them steep in the oil for an hour. Mix together a sufficiency of finely grated bread-crumbs, and a little minced parsley, seasoned with a very little pepper and salt, and some grated nutmeg. Having drained the cutlets from the oil, cover them with the mixture, and broil them over a bed of hot, live coals, on a previously heated gridiron, the bars of which have been rubbed with chalk. The cutlets must be thoroughly cooked. When half done, turn them carefully. You may bake them in a dutch-oven, instead of broiling them. Have ready some boiled potatoes, mashed smooth and stiff with cream or butter. Heap the mashed potatoes high on a heated dish, and make it into the form of a dome or bee-hive. Smooth it over with the back of a spoon, and place the lamb cutlets all round it, so that they stand up and lean against it, with the broad end of each cutlet downward. In the top of the dome of potatoes, stick a handsome bunch of curled parsley.

Quotation for the Day.

I appreciate the potato only as a protection against famine; except for that, I know of nothing more eminently tasteless."
Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)

NOTE: Blogger is reallly misbehaving at present. It is FRIDAY in my part of the world, but no matter what I do to the scheduled time-box, the post show up as being uploaded on Thursday. And Yes,I do have the blog clock set correctly for Australian Eastern Standard Time. I am not alone, and we understand Blogger is working to fix the problem.

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