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Secret history of East London's relationship with potatoes

The secret history of East London's relationship with potatoes

Potatoes originated in South America and quickly found their way to the market stalls of Ridley Road. It has a history that many locals are proud of but do you know the story?

"If, crazed with hunger and exhaustion, our weary Roman legionary, on his way back to Londinium from the rigours of duty on Hadrian's Wall, stumbled forward into another time warp, he would be puzzled by the displays of strange exotic root vegetables in the shops on Kingsland Road or Ridley Road Market.

Our spuds (Solanum tuberosum) were known as papas or batatas, but so were sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) and the yam (Dioscorea opposita) was another, while taro (Colocasia esculenta) was yet another root, and cassava (Manihot utilissima) was also called yucca and manioc".

These days there is a huge amount of choice for locals in East London to choose from with some different shapes, sizes, colours and flavours.

Ridley Road Market was hugely popular 10-80 year ago with many making a very god living. There was almost a family feel to it with stall workers looking out for each other. There was time for stall holders to explain more about their produce including 'strange' things that we now call Potatoes.

Cutting up most sweet potatoes and other roots is arduous, unlike our soft spuds. A machete might come in handy, as slaves labouring on the plantations must have found. Some have said it's uncomfortable to enjoy our local produce now, while tracing back their origins in the horrible realities of the slave trade and Hackney's involvement in both its growth and its abolition.

The rural villages within easy reach of the City of London were ideal for the salubrious dwellings of merchants and traders who got rich on the notorious sugar/slave commerce. But the same environment was congenial for the Dissenters and radicals who fought for its abolition.

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