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Portrait of Eva Ekeblad.

The Swedish countess who discovered the culinary adaptability of potatoes – and thereby revolutionized agriculture in Northern Europe – was born 293 years ago today.

Eva Ekeblad, widely considered a pioneer for women in Swedish science, is today honored with a Google Doodle commemorating her 18th century achievements.

Ekeblad was born into the aristocracy on July 10, 1724 – and was married at 16 to another noble politician. Over decades of marriage, she would have seven children, six of whom lived to adulthood, according to historical accounts.

But she had a fundamental curiosity that led to her experimenting with the potatoes growing on the family lands, which she managed. At the age of 22, she began experimenting in her kitchen with the tuberous crops.

Until that time, the spuds were known in Scandinavia mostly as curiosities growing in greenhouses – since they were not as intuitively manipulated or cooked.

Ekeblad found the method to cook and pulverize the potatoes to make flour. That flour, in turn, could be used to make alcohol, among other products.

The use of Ekeblad’s technique quickly caught on in Sweden, and the region. By using potatoes for spirits, other crops like oats, rye and barley that had been sued for alcohol were freed up to feed the hungry – and it solved many of the constant food shortages in the Scandinavian area.

(Some historians even attribute the rise of European worldwide dominance on the widespread cultivation of the potato, which had been adopted from the colonies in the New World.)

At just 24, Ekeblad was elected a member of the Swedish Academy of Sciences. She was the first woman to be so honored – and another female wouldn’t join her for another 203 years (nuclear physicist Lise Meitner, in 1951).

Ekeblad made other breakthroughs in the following decades, as well. She developed a soap for bleaching cotton and other materials. And her work with potatoes also led to safer, less toxic cosmetics and wig powders (lead had been heavily used in these substances prior to her discoveries).

Ekeblad died at the age of 61, in 1786.

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