Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mode of Cooking the Potato.

Compared with, say, chocolate, the potato was slow to be adopted in the Old World for a number of reasons touched upon in previous blog posts (here, and here.) It started to become established in Europe and Britain in the dying decades of the eighteenth century, but a hundred years later the writers of agricultural tracts and cookery books still felt it necessary to give explicit instructions for the most basic ways of preparing this most useful vegetable.

It may seem quaint, now, this need to inform on such an elementary cooking technique, but before you scoff at the ignorance of our recent ancestors, be aware that studies have shown that a large proportion of our urban youth does not know how to proceed when faced with a dirty, raw potato. To this cohort, their knowledge of cooking the potato extends to the microwaving of frozen products including ‘chips.’

I give you extracts from two nineteenth century sources on simple potato cooking methods, one from America, one from England.

From the American agriculturist, Volume 25 in 1866, an article entitled About Potatoes, and Cooking Them gives an explanation of the starch and water content of the potato in comparison to other foods, and then goes on to advise about the mode of cooking them.

COOKING: The starch in potatoes exists as little grains 10 or 12 of them together, in cells. Heating the potato by boiling, steaming, or baking, causes these cells to burst, and the water unites with the starch grains, swelling them. If all the water contained in the potato thus unites with its starch, the potato cooks dry and mealy. If only part of the water is absorbed by the starch, the potato is watery. The best mode of cooking this esculent is by baking, which drives off all the water that does not unite with the starch. If boiled, cook them rapidly, and when just done, dry them out; then they are improved by mashing fine to free them from indigestible lumps; this, of course, can be done by the teeth of those who prefer their potatoes ‘undressed’. Frying them dries up the starch, leaving it similar to charcoal, and when done brown they are almost as indigestible as so much charcoal or wood.

From the English publication The Gardener's magazine and register of rural &domestic improvement, in 1826, there is support for the beautiful notion of butter with potatoes.

On the Culture of the Early Potatoe as practised in Lancashire, and on the Mode of cooking the Potatoe there.
Perhaps the Lancashire mode of dressing early potatoes may not be unacceptable to some of your readers. Brush off the skins, set them on the fire in cold water; when boiled, pour off the water completely; add a little salt, and dry them well on the fire. An iron pot I conceive is the best vessel for the purpose, and the sooner they are eaten with cold butter the better.
London, February 1826.

Quotation for the Day.

I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them.
Nora Ephron, Heartburn.

1 comment:

Marcheline said...

I don't regret my past loves, nor the potatoes that went with them! And I love my fries well-done. Charcoal, my arse!