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Potatoes: A Thanksgiving staple with Utah history

Potato and turkey pot pie - one of endless leftover ideas.
Associated Press
Potato and turkey pot pie - one of endless leftover ideas.

Everyone knows it’s not Thanksgiving without potatoes, but most people don’t know how the vegetable ended up on their plates for this uniquely American holiday.

Did you know that potatoes were not on the first Thanksgiving menu in 1621? The Native Americans and Plymouth settlers likely feasted on food like venison, dried fish, eels and a native variety of corn in the form of porridge. We know children across the country are grateful they don’t have to say, “Please pass the eels.”

While the pilgrims may not have had potatoes on their table, researchers from Utah have discovered that Native Americans in the western U.S. ate wild potatoes nearly 11,000 years ago. But it wasn’t until we were a fledgling nation that potatoes (which had come to Europe via Spanish Conquistadors in South America) started growing toward the popularity they enjoy today.

By the time Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November a “day of Thanksgiving,” potatoes were regularly consumed around the country…and the rest is history.

“It’s no wonder potatoes have become a Thanksgiving staple. They’re easy, affordable and guaranteed to please everybody at your table!” says chef and registered dietician R.J. Harvey, director of culinary at Potatoes USA.

Potatoes also are a nutritional powerhouse. Per serving, they pack more vitamin C than pumpkin, more iron than green beans, and more potassium than sweet potatoes.

“Potatoes don’t have to be your guilty pleasure. They are naturally fat-, cholesterol- and sodium-free, and they’re the type of quality carbohydrate that fuels performance for your family flag football game,” Harvey adds.