Hand-filled sacks of potatoes are seen near the Snake River Canyon rim in this early Clarence E. Bisbee photo. The crop yielded 446 bushels to the acre.

I scream. You scream. We all scream for potatoes.

The tuber that made the state famous traveled a long way from its roots to get to the United States and eventually to Idaho.

Peru was home to potatoes some 7,000 to 10,000 years ago. First grown by the Incas, the nutritious member of the nightshade family found its way to Europe via Spanish conquistadors.

It’s said Sir Walter Raleigh introduced potatoes to Ireland in the 16th century, but the crop never got a good start in England.

Wheat growers in England feared the newly introduced potato crop and organized the “Society for the Prevention of Unwholesome Diet” to deter the consumption of the tuber. “Spud” emerged as the acronym for the society, which eventually became the nickname for the potato, Helen Hamlin wrote in her 1940s book, “Pine, Potatoes and People.”

Potatoes made their way back to the Americas in the 17th century and first took root in New England.

A potato blight knocked out much of the European crop in the 1840s — the resulting famine hit Ireland especially hard. Many, including Mormon converts from the United Kingdom, escaped the famine by immigrating to America.

In 1860, three years before Idaho Territory was established, Mormon colonists from the Salt Lake Valley — thinking they were still in Utah — moved into what is now Franklin County, bringing potatoes with them.

Today, Idaho is the largest producer of potatoes in the United States.

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Mychel Matthews reports on rural issues for the Times-News. The Hidden History feature runs every Thursday in the Times-News and at Magicvalley.com. If you have a question about something that may have historical significance, email Matthews at mmatthews@magicvalley.com or call her at 208-735-3233.


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