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Homage to the humble spud

In the world of food, potatoes are finally in the limelight.

Spectacular spuds: Potatoes aren't just delicious, they're good for you, too. To honor the tasty tuber, the United Nations dubbed 2008 the International Year of the Potato.

Larry Crowe/AP/File

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The potato is making news these days, not only for its potential role in global food security as grain prices escalate, but also as an income-generator for growers in many countries and as an ally in the developed world's quest for nutritional sanity. Boiled, potatoes pack more protein than corn and nearly twice the calcium. If you don't believe me, ask the nonprofit International Potato Center in Lima, Peru (the country where potatoes originated some 8,000 years ago), which also notes that potatoes contain lots of other nutrients – and, well, taste good.

The United Nations has weighed in as well, naming 2008 the International Year of the Potato, a "hidden treasure" of a tuber.

I have heeded these messages, but these folks are preaching to a member of the choir here. Potatoes are among my top choices of what to eat any time of day, and the basis for a sizable personal cookbook of meals and memories.

My worst childhood faux pas – chattily remarking to a teacher we'd invited for lunch that the ceramic soup bowls were "just like the one our dog eats out of" without explaining that a chipped companion had been demoted for dog use – was closely seconded by asking, just as my mother served Thanksgiving dinner to a long table of relatives, "Are those real mashed potatoes?"

In my and my mother's defense, there was no time like the 1950s for serving up powdered and packaged versions of fresh foods. Instant potatoes were a weekday staple in our home, but they paled against potatoes freshly cooked and beaten with butter and cream for holidays. At the age of 10, I was helpless to ignore that distinction for the sake of protocol or my mother's pride.


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