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Trends, Backstories and the Potato by Deb Forkins

The Chicago Trib just ran an article on Food and Drink Trends for 2016. According to the senior food editor Brett Thorn at National Restaurant News, “the overarching trend is people want to feel more connected with the food. They want to know the back story.” Well, FOM (Friends of Marcel’s) have been ahead of that trend for quite some time! Our chefs blend their culinary-inspired passions with backstories and love of place to bring you unique and inspiring class recipes and experiences. Our blog posts are full of food associations and recipes from our aunt’s cookbooks or our trip to Paris. Visit one of our free Tuesday Demos and learn why that particular recipe is so special to your demonstrator/hostess. It’s difficult for all FOMs to strip a dish from the context and the company with which it was consumed.

debblog3Personally, I uncovered the backstory of the lowly potato this August while traveling to Cusco, Peru and the Incan Trail. I always associated the potato with Ireland, but actually the first potato crops can be traced back to the ancient Incan culture of Peru thousands of years ago. In 1536 the Spanish Conquistadors conquered Peru discovering the flavors of the potato (along with the gold) and carried the tubers back to Europe. Within 4 decades from that time, most of Europe, including Ireland, was farming potatoes.

debblog2Much like our Native North Americans, the Incans revere all living things – particularly Pachymama, Mother Earth, and all things that she provides. Peru has over 3,500 kinds of potatoes, all with names that evoke an intimate connection, “best black woman,” “best red woman,” “makes the daughter-in-law cry,” “like an old bone” to name a few. One or more kind of potatoes are served at every meal. The Incans have always been farmers extraordinaire. A mountainous terrain does not lend itself to a farming culture, but the ancient Incans were architectural wizards and tamed the landscape with now famous terraces. The Andean countryside is punctuated with amazing terraces that date back thousands of years, still pristine but unused as they have been deemed historic landmarks. Today, the typical Incan farmer rents a small plot of land and feeds his family from his land, selling any surplus stock he might have. Through serendipitous events, Marc and I visited one such farm family while in Peru, high in the Andes several hours from Cusco. We were immediately embraced by Marcello (south American cousin of Marcel’s???) and his family. We spent the afternoon learning their culture, conversing through an “unprofessional” interpreter who was also our driver. We walked their small property which included the garden of potato tubers, quinoa plants, corn and assorted vegetables, the llamas they raised for wool, the plants they collected knowing which color each plant leaf or root would impart to the wool, and the large wooden loom which is central to every Incan home turning the wool into magnificent blankets and clothing. We were their guests for lunch, and sat in their one room mud block home, as the women prepared many varieties of potatoes (all amazingly delicious) over an open fire. Marcello displayed samples of his produce on a blanket spread on the ground. Marcello’s daughters showed us how to make yarn from the harvested wool, and we dyed the yarn gold. The tall peaks of the Andes surrounded us, the sun was high and the air was crisp and fresh. It was an absolutely magical day, one we will never forget, along with a newfound love for the potato.

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