Eva Ekeblad: The Woman Who Reinvented the Potato

While potatoes are something you will definitely have heard of, the name Eva Ekeblad is probably less familiar to you. However, the Eva Ekeblad’s life story and the history of the potato are very closely linked in ways which may surprise you. Ekeblad was a Swedish countess who was born in Stockholm on July 10, 1724. This salon hostess, agronomist, and scientist made some very interesting contributions to science during her lifetime.

Potatoes are now a common food item that people serve in many different ways. However, there was once a time when potatoes were not considered fit for human consumption. Ekeblad discovered that some people in Germany had used the vegetable to make alcoholic drinks. She decided to start growing her own potatoes in 1746 so that she could experiment with ways of using them. The young woman found that by cooking the potatoes before smashing them and then drying them meant that she could create a form of flour.

This was fantastic news at that time because Sweden was suffering from a food shortage and this discovery helped the Swedish to overcome some of their problems. It was also this discovery that led to Ekeblad being one of the first women to be admitted to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Furthermore, her findings encouraged others to experiment with the possibility of using this vegetable for the creation of alcoholic drinks.

Once famine was no longer an issue in Sweden and crops such as barley, rye, and oats becoming freely available, there was a huge spike in the consumption of alcohol across most parts of Northern Europe. Also, the potato had once only been found in the houses of the aristocracy since it was first introduced to Sweden in 1658, but it now became a common food item; just as it is today.

What makes Ekeblad’s discovery all the more significant is that she could have chosen any life that she wanted for herself. Having been born into nobility, she could have opted for a life of leisure. Her father was Count Magnus Julius de la Gardie, a statesman.

Ekeblad had also married a nobleman as she wed Count Claes Claesson Ekeblad when she was just 16. She could have become a stay-at-home wife, at this point, or concentrated her efforts on filling her social calendar. However, this was not the lifestyle that this intelligent woman chose.

Instead, she managed the properties belonging to her family. Her husband owned the Stola Manor estate and a residence in Stockholm. Her father had gifted the couple Lindholmen Castle and Mariedal Castle. She also began working in the castle’s kitchen as an agronomist. This is a person who studies plants and their uses. She studied the potential uses of the potato for quite some time before submitting her findings in 1746 to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Not satisfied that she had made the discovery of potato flour and solved the hunger problem in Sweden, Ekeblad continued her research to learn more about how this potato flour could be used. By 1752, she had discovered that potato flour could be used as a safe replacement for the dangerous ingredients of cosmetics at that time. Another discovery made by Ekeblad was a specific method of using yarn with soap to bleach textiles.

It is worth noting that Eva Ekeblad also had an extremely busy personal life. She and her husband had seven children; one son and six daughters. The scientist also hosted a cultural salon from her home in Stockholm, which was attended by many female members of the aristocracy. When her husband died, she retired to her country estates.

Eva Ekeblad made some significant discoveries in her time, especially considering she was a female member of the aristocracy. She was perhaps only surpassed by Catherine Charlotte de la Gardie, who happened to be her sister-in-law. It was she who popularized using the smallpox vaccination at a time when this disease was a real issue.

During her later years, Eva Ekeblad lived in Mariedal Castle. Although she had enjoyed good health throughout most of her life, she was periodically bedridden in the last few years of her life. She died at the age of 61 on May 15, 1786, in Skaraborg County, Sweden.

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