Damned be potatoes

They say, for farmers, the weather’s always bad.
Too much rain, too hot or way too cold.

But I, the miller, always got my share.

Farmers used to come to me with wagon-loads of wheat or rye.
I could feed my children, I could build my house.
The grinding stones were never still.

But then potatoes came and the people of the land craved less for bread.

Now my wheels have stopped. I close the door.


It’s time for us to leave starvation.

Tickets in my hand, we are leaving for America.
I’ve heard they need a miller’s hand.

This is imagined from some historic background. In the end of the 18th century potatoes was introduced in Sweden, and it changed the rural life a lot. Potatoes required much less work, and fed the population better, so I imagined that among the first to suffer from this revolution where the millers. During the 19th century and early 20th century about 25% of Sweden’s population emigrated. If you find the subject fascinating I recommend you to read the Emigration series by Vilhelm Moberg.

The story has also been made into a musical (Kristina från Duvemåla).

Friday Fictioneers is a group of bloggers writing a 100 word story to the same picture under the guidance of Rochelle. Join this weekly fun, where I have been a happy participant for quite some time now.

January 4, 2016

77 responses to “Damned be potatoes

  1. I love discovering what small economic, cultural or climatic changes make a way of life and indeed a whole culture change. Great story, Bjorn

  2. Dear Björn,

    You taught me something I didn’t know. I’m a potato lover but I can’t imagine them replacing bread. Thanks for an informative story, well done.



  3. Wow… a little snippet of history so not what I was expecting from Sweden… goes to show… we are never too old to learn!

  4. Really interesting snippet of history there – and I thought most mills went out of use because of industrialisation. Fascinating. I wonder if he was a success?

  5. And then came the potatoe blight, it drove some of my ancestors out of Ireland, to Liverpool and the rest is history as they say. I believe that the indigenous Irish where as poor as the people of Sweden

  6. Like Maureen and Michael, I’m seeing the parallels with Ireland in your story. The earlier diet consisted of a lot of grain but that all changed with the introduction of potatoes, and then followed the disaster that was the Great Hunger.
    I love how you captured the turning point, both culturally and for the miller himself.

  7. I love the historic take you took on the prompt. At first, I thought your story was about the Irish potato famine. Then this – the effect of potato farms on Sweden. Thanks for opening my eyes.

  8. I love thinking about historical shifts in agriculture, industry, and economics and how they affected cultures, and you do such a great job of illustrating such a change through the eyes of a specific person whose life is changed. Interesting!

  9. Fascinating. I like it that your farmer was willing to take his skills elsewhere. I’m guessing that potatoes were nutritionally good for the poor as a source of Vitamin C as well as the B vits. Also, with flour, especially rye flour (not sure if this was the main crop at the time), it can have severe mold problems that can drive people insane. As for times of potato famine, were they able to recommission the mills and start producing more bread again, or were the mills past recommissioning?

  10. Finally getting to catch up on reading, Björn–– so busy with getting to Israel and now being with my grandson and daughter! Wow, you’re right, we did write similar stories! My brain instantly went in this direction when I saw the photo. I guess it’s true: great minds do think alike. 😉

  11. An interesting story with the historical information. I couldn’t see potatoes and bread as an ‘either/or’ option, but can see how the growth of potatoes affected the miller.

  12. Damn the potatoes, full speed ahead. Oops, wrong projectile.

    I read an interesting journal a few years back written by a young man in the early 1700s. His father not only ground grain with the grist mill but harnessed the water power to make other things, such as cut nails. This kept them busy year round. The miller needs to expand his offerings.

  13. I really learned something here, Bjorn. The story was terrific, but the history was really something. We don’t know a whole lot about Sweden in America outside of Ingmar Bergman, Ingrid Bergman, some supermodels and, of course, the great meatballs and IKEA — actually, maybe we DO!

    Anyway, it’s a very excellent story subject and is worth a few more. Great job, Bjorn!

    Five out of five Swedish Fries.

    • If you come across a file called the Emigrants it tells a story of starvation in Sweden and then coming to Minnesota…. it’s a real classic made in 1971, and feature many famous actors, but was directed by Jan Troell not Ingmar Bergman.

      • Actually, I HAVE heard of that movie from back when I was in high school. One of our teachers said she saw it. I was too young to see it when it came out, I’m sure.
        And, yes, I know there are more directors from Sweden than Ingmar Bergman out there, but when a product from Sweden makes that big a splash in the film world, what else can you remember, right? haha!

  14. Poor man – I hope he found work in America. I have a Norwegian friend who is researching her own family’s emigration to America – perhaps potatoes were part of the reason there too?

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