Make a Soldier Smile: Send a Potato

Want to make a soldier smile? Send him or her Potato. One of the favorite icons of Army life is KP: peeling potatoes. An army marches on its stomach and in camp potatoes always fill the plates in the mess hall. Our fathers and grandfathers tell stories of hours of peeling potatoes and the icon of the private sitting near a huge sack of spuds getting them ready for chow is one that endures. Today the Army uses private contractors to provide its meals, but our fathers and grandfathers remember KP.

The humble but necessary potato

The potato has the multiple benefits of nutrition, simplicity, ease of storage and transport and ability to satisfy hunger. One of its most common uses was for food for sailors. In America it became a standard at the tables of farmers and ranchers because it was cheap, plentiful and good for you. On the frontier potatoes were important to the soldiers in the forts and army posts. Peeling potatoes was an essential if not monotonous duty.

The potato: at home and at war

Up until World War one soldiers usually cooked their meals in a “mess”. Groups of soldiers received the ingredients for their meals, hard bread or biscuit, bacon and coffee and cooked over a fire. In the Civil War a soldier on the march revived three days ration: nine hardtack, a slab of meat (salt pork, which he cooked as soon as he could), coffee and sugar. The haversack stored these things. Fresh food was only available when a camp was made, a garrison camp, and then kitchens were set up .In camp potatoes formed a basis for many meals. In the North, white potatoes were preferred at the Homefront, in the South; sweet potatoes were the first choice.

Potatoes go to war

By World War One, the image we often see of the privates peeling potatoes became a common image. KP was used as a discipline practice for recruits and soldiers alike who didn’t shape up or got caught doing something the sergeant didn’t like. Sailors did KP: duty in the ship’s galley too. By World War Two, the number of soldiers who had to be trained, uniformed and fed had increased to never imagined numbers. Feeding became a major problem to solve. Jack Simplot of Idaho came up with a specialized process for drying potatoes (and onions) for large scale shipment, storage and distribution in the field He also developed a potato that could be made into precut French fries with predictable yield. Today’s fast food fries owe it all to Idaho’s Simplot potato.

Sending a soldier a potato will make him or her smile. It will show you care and it will connect him or her with their heritage. They may be dining to meals that their soldier father and grandfather only could dream of, but the potato will like them together. Today the MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) has placed gourmet dining in the fields for many soldiers in many places. In addition to potatoes, anything from chili, macaroni and cheese, and other home front dishes are available. Sending a potato with a personal message will make a solider smile, it will connect him or her with a proud heritage of patriotism and show how much we appreciate their sacrifice and service.

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