“What I say is that, if a fellow really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.” A. A. Milne

The Spanish tag surrounding the Conquistadores and their early colonising shenanigans still retains a hint of missionary altruism coupled with shades of playful enlightenment. However, such fanciful notions are a country mile from the realities of theft, slavery and genocide that they so enthusiastically undertook five centuries ago.

Under the dubious authority of The Almighty – as interpreted by His assumed representative on earth, one King Ferdinando el Católico of Spain – these self-sanctified crusaders sailed west to the Americas seeking to relieve countless kingdoms of their spiritual beliefs, their fertile lands, and most importantly, their conveniently mined gold and silver reserves.

After all, stumping up for an Armada – even if you are the King of Spain – doesn’t come cheap.

These avaricious mercenaries also established a highly profitable slave trade by way of a second income stream, all, in the immortal words of Bob Dylan, with “God on their side”.

Beyond their initial discoveries, wave after wave of conquistadores, on the lookout for additional booty, ransacked cities and villages to furnish their growing requirements for slaves and concubines. During these outings, they paused frequently to consume (and eventually seize) the myriad of exotic and uncommon foodstuffs they came across. In due course huge quantities of these unfamiliar culinary ingredients, God’s complimentary bounty to your average looter, added to the tally of exportable provision and increasingly found their way to Europe.

By default, our boisterous Iberian ambassadors were unwittingly contributing to a diverse and expansive gastronomy which has permanently changed our global food landscape. Around the world, not a day now passes without a large mass of its citizens casually consuming one or more bio-descendants of this historic but somewhat blemished bounty.

There are few who fail to crown their Sunday gammon with a mandatory Pineapple ring, whilst others cannot resist Vanilla ice cream or the Guava or Papaya flavoured yoghurts from the smarter sections of the city’s supermarkets.

Fewer still are unable to withstand a secretive bar of processed Cacao, (chocolate to you and me…and it’s often me), from a confectioner almost anywhere on the planet.

And where would the Nonnas of Italy be without Tomatoes for their ubiquitous pomodoro pasta sauce or French cooks without ratatouille’s underlying Peppers?

English summer puddings without Blackberries and Raspberries. Or worse still, Delia without Cranberries!

Christmas for many without a Turkey on the table is as inconceivable as Nigella without a squished Avocado to hand. And closer to home, the pub stalwart without a packet of Peanuts to accompany his pint or the ensuing late-night curry without the full complement of Chillies, simply does not bear thinking about.

And was it not a tin of sweet Corn that first tempted a picky young generation (often averse to eating plant life) to try the sunshine coloured beads courtesy of a throwaway comedy vegetable previously reserved for cattle?

Such orphaned ingredients, many now fundamental to their adopted gastronomic homes, set sail from South America half a millenium ago with glowing PR attached.

But, unlike Paddington Bear, the Potato (appropriated from an area we now know as from Peru) gathered a bad press the moment it docked in Europe.

Although today the potato is the third most important crop in the world, it was initially reviled among the movers and shakers of European society. Some saw it as a poison, (as it reached maturity underground), others thought it the cause of leprosy, miscarriage or tuberculosis. Protestant farmers viewed it as the food of the Devil refusing to plant it, whilst some Catholics, although regarding it as a Diabolic curse, chose a most convenient ploy to keep the troublesome poor subdued during frequent famines and decreed that the seed potato could be planted exclusively on Good Friday if accompanied by a sanctifying drizzle of Holy Water.

Shame they didn’t manage a little more accommodating flexibility on birth control too.

Since the first recorded plantings in 16th century Seville, it took a further two hundred years until the Parisian élite, aided by the French pharmacist Antoine-Auguste Parmentier, were encouraged to eat potatoes. Somehow, even Marie Antoinette was inspired to wear its’ flowers in her hair by way of a somewhat patronising example to the paysanne classes to use it as a more reliable field crop (replacing wheat – which regularly failed).

One hundred years later, Parmentier had his name appended to a Metro station in the 11th arrondissment, whereas Ms Antoinette was never granted such honour.

And although it took its time, once the potato gained fashionable traction at the heart of Europe, we all know the effect French Fries subsequently had on the world.

Today, not surprisingly then, I cite a Swiss chef cooking in the French tradition, Frédy Girardet, who has diverted me to the most exciting potato dish I have ever made. His former self-named restaurant near Lausanne in Switzerland (boasting three Michelin stars) was once cited as the best restaurant in the world. Odd then that this modest recipe, Purée de Pommes Nouvelles à l’Huile d’Olive, has become his most emulated dish.

You see, Frédy is the chef who made mashed potatoes famous.

My only liberty, as an Englishman, is to substitute floury main crop potatoes instead of Frédy’s early season Nouvelles. In this I share Charles Campion’s opinion in his book Fifty Recipes to Stake Your Life On (2004)

From Cuisine Spontanée (1987) Frédy Girardet

1 kg new crop potatoes (Instead I use either Maris Piper or King Edwards for this dish)

100 ml double cream

100 ml of the best exra-virgin olive oil you can find (it is the pre-eminent taste in the dish)

½ bunch spring onions

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the potatoes in boiling, salted water

Drain and push through a sieve, or preferably a potato ricer

Add warmed cream and beat until absorbed into the potato

Now beat in the olive oil and continue beating after all the oil has been absorbed

Season with salt and freshly ground pepper

Campion then suggests you put the mash into a fireproof dish, add some cheese and breadcrumbs on top before heating under the grill. I have tried both methods and both are good

Whatever method you choose do source some fine pork sausages to accompany. This is mash that gives sausages a fervent purpose to the week.