How Marie Antoinette gave prestige to the potato – and a potato recipe from the French royal court

October 15, 2012

Girl Peeling Potatoes painted by Albert Anker

As already noted in a previous post, the potato was one of the plants brought to the Old World after Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the Americas.

While the potato is used extensively throughout Europe today–German average potato consumption is 150 lbs per person per year–in its first years, the potato struggled for acceptance. In France, wheat and bread were the staples and the lowly potato was scorned.

Portrait of Antoine Parmentier painted by François Dumont

Antoine-Augustin de Parmentier (1737-1813), an eminent physician who wanted to introduce the potato into the French diet, decided that the best way to break  through the prejudice was to recruit the good offices of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. If they made the potato fashionable, the rest of society would follow suit; and follow they did.

Potato flowers

Several stories are told. In one of them, Parmentier is said to have given the royal couple some potato flowers when they were walking in the gardens of Versailles. The Queen put some of the little flowers in her hair. The king put one in his buttonhole. The nobles and ladies in their retinue did the same and the incident became a topic of conversation throughout France.

1886 engraving of Parmentier showing potatoes to Louis XVI

Another story tells how the king gave Parmentier some acreage for the growing of potatoes. Walls were put up and a guard established to protect the garden. The air of mystery aroused people’s curiosity, which was doubled when guards accepted bribes to allow people to dig up potatoes. All of this staging encouraged people to look at the humble tuber from a new perspective.

This statue of Antoine-Augustin Parmentier showing him distributing potatoes is located in the Parmentier Métro Line 3 Terminal in Paris. The Parmentier Métro opened in 1904 and was named after him.

All of these efforts received their reward and the potato was enshrined for good in French cuisine in 1785. In that year, famine struck northern France, but the poor were able to survive, thanks to the lowly potato. The death of many by starvation had been avoided.

Parmentier offers a bunch of potato flowers to King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Louis XVI put the flowers in his buttonhole and the whole Court followed his example.

Like Frederick the Great of Prussia and others, Louis XVI immediately grasped the potato’s potential as a basic food that could make all the difference when wheat crops were jeopardized by disease or bad weather.

“The kindness of Louis XVI,” painted by Philibert-Louis Debucourt. In February 1784, near Versailles, Louis XVI visited a poor peasant family. Moved by their plight, he gave them the purse he had on him. His act of kindness became quickly known by all.

This insight, this grasping of the nature and potential of proposed remedies to social problems, and the promotion of these remedies to society at large is something that kings and nobles have down repeatedly down through the ages. It is an intrinsic part of the mission of the nobility to be always on the alert for ways to protect and advance the common good of society.

In Spain, the first potatoes were grown in the garden of a Seville Monastery by St. Teresa of Avila. Appreciating the potato’s health-improving qualities, she would give them to the sick.


Crunchy potato croquettes recipe from the French court of Louis XVI.

Louis XVI’s Potato Croquettes



Serves 6

2 pounds of Potatoes

2 Tablespoons Butter

¼ teaspoon White Pepper

¼ teaspoon Nutmeg

½ Cup grated Parmesan

1 teaspoon of Parsley

½ to 1 teaspoon Salt

2 Eggs


Bread crumbs

Rolled potato croquettes, before breading them.


Peel the potatoes, cut them into four pieces, put potatoes in cold, salted water and then bring to boil.

Once potatoes are cooked, drain and smash them in the same pan with butter, over low heat.

When the purée seems compact and smooth, remove from heat and season with salt, white pepper, nutmeg, the grated cheese and then an egg yolk.  Mix everything well.

Breaded potato croquettes, ready to be cooked!

When the mixture is cool to the touch, roll them into balls, creating the croquettes. Roll each ball first in flour, then a beaten egg and finally the bread crumbs.

Fry the croquettes in boiling oil, making sure to turn them often until they are evenly golden. Don’t deep fat fry them. Pan frying is best.

Serve warm with fresh parsley if desired.


This recipe is taken from the book “Tacuinum dè Eccellentissimi”, by Alex Revelli Sorini e Susanna Cutini ali&no publisher and this website:  edited by

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  • Bonvoisin

    Could you give me the origin of the engraving of Parmentier and louis xvi (on engraving of 1886 showing potatoes to Parmentier Louis XVI), and where can i find it?
    Really thanks

  • EliseHougesen

    The Recipe
    “Turkischer Kaffee:
    Grind coffee beans in a Turkish coffee mill, which reduced them to a powder fine as flour. (For American kitchens, grind to a regular grind in a coffee mill. Then place in an Osterizer on grind speed and grind to a powder.) Allow 6 tablespoons water, 2 tablespoons sugar (or 2 teaspoons stevia powder and from 1 to 2 teaspoons coffee powder per person.
    Combine the water, sugar and coffee in a copper Turkish coffee pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Take te pot from the heat and stir the coffee well. Return it to the heat and let it boil up once. Rwemove it immediately and let the grounds settle. Repeat the boiling up and settling procedure twice more. Cover the pot and let it stand for 2 minutes, add 2 to 3 teaspoons cold water and let the coffee settle a minute longer. Pour it into cups. The coffee will remain slightly foamy.
    Turkish coffee cups are smaller than after dinner coffee cups.

  • EliseHougesen

    Turkish Coffee from Old Vienna
    “Besides their charm and wit, their love of music and good food, the Viennese seem to have had bursts of a sort of native shrewdness. It is said that the fortifications that enabled Vienna to withstand the attacks of all her friends and neighbors were built with the ransom money the city received for Richard the Lion-hearted. When the Turks, who besieged Vienna three times, finally departed, they left their coffee behind them. It turned out to be a great blessing. Someone recognized it as coffee, then unknown in Vienna, and promptly opened a Kaffeehaus, a coffeehouse, in which to serve it. This inspired benefactor supplied the very thing Vienna needed most, so that all subsequent generations could leavde home for part of each day—often the better part—and sit comfottably over their coffee and pastry.”

  • richmorejohn2

    This recipe reminds me of the bakes potato wedges that Nana (Grandma) used to make. I miss the English countryside. Her secret was oregano aroma for the great taste and aroma.

  • Eddutch23

    Let them eat potato cake!

  • Royalpita

    A wonderfully done story with most enjoyable artwork displays. Bravo!

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