Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Laughing Potatoes.

Several hotels in Brisbane in the 1870’s claimed via the classified advertisement section of the Brisbane Courier that they provided the best “shilling dinners” in the the town (or in the case of the Hotel de Paris – which in spite of its name was indeed in Queen St., Brisbane – “the best in the Colony”). In the edition of September 18, 1875 the claim was made by The School of Arts Hotel, and the advertisement included a specimen bill of fare (to which were made “Daily and Judicious Alterations”.)

Sheep’s Head Broth.
Macaroni Soup.
Fried and Boiled, with Anchovy Sauce.
Sirloin of Beef and Yorkshire Pudding.
Leg of Mutton and Caper Sauce.
Corned Beef.
Kidney Pudding.
Stewed Tripe and Onions.
Sheepshead and Brain Sauce.
Currie and Rice.
Fillet of Beef, Grilled, and Onions, Cutlets
Grilled Chops in perfection, and Laughing Potatoes
Vegetables in Season.
Apple Pudding
Jam Roley Poley
Pine Apple and Rice.

Well, I bet you can guess what I would have chosen on this menu! From the very stodgy solid Victorian English offerings (so suitable for the Brisbane climate – not) – how could I resist a simple grilled chop “in perfection” with Laughing Potatoes?

I had never heard of Laughing Potatoes until I read this menu, and assumed it was some personal joke on the part of the hotelier, but it turns out that there is such a recognised potato dish. How much fun is that?

“Laughing Potatoes” are potatoes steamed or boiled (or sometimes baked) in their skins – the skins splitting their sides in the cooking, as if with laughter (and the cracks looking like smiles). The dish (or the idea) was unequivocally Irish, and the potato being a staple food for that race for a large part of the nineteenth century the name is a clear testament to the ability of some folk to maintain a self-mocking sense of humour no matter what.

It hardly seems necessary nowadays to give instructions for boiling potatoes, but in 1824 it was clearly not a universal skill. A correspondent to the journal Kaleidoscope:or, Literary and Scientific Mirror in that year felt that the correct process needed some clarification.

SIR, It is suprising that in a pan of the kingdom where potatoes are supposed to be the best not one in twenty should know how to cook them. To save the trouble of washing them clean it is the custom to pare or scrape off the skin the consequence of which is that when brought to table the outside is only enough and the inside half raw or if the potatoes are boiled longer than usual then the flowery outside becomes mixed with the water like puddle. There being no stated advantage in the Lancashire method one naturally wonders that the cooks should take so much pains to spoil so valuable an article of food. Count Rumford particularly says that potatoes should be boiled with the skins on and also boiled slowly that the inside may be enough as soon the outside.

Quotation for the Day.

Only two things in this world are too serious to be jested on, potatoes and matrimony.
Irish saying.

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