The potato is one of my favourite food-history topics, and as for eating them - well, the quotation “I’ve never met a potato I didn’t like” could have been written for me. Yesterday’s recipe for the day, using potato flour to make an elegant pudding, made me realise that I haven’t given that particular potato product much blog space.
Potato flour was a ‘novel product’ in 1833:
“A novel –manufactured article has lately been introduced into the London market … and is sold, we are informed, as fast as it arrives. We allude to ‘Potato Flour’. … It is particularly applicable to making pastry: in fact, a confectioner has assured us, that by using two-thirds of potato flour, and one-third of wheaten flour, the article made therefrom is of a decidedly superior quality.”
The Mechanics Magazine (London, 1833)
I don’t think many of us would agree with the statement in the article above, that the inclusion of potato flour results in a decidedly superior quality of pastry. I don’t believe that there is any substitute for fine white wheat flour in the making of superior shortcrust, flaky, puff, or other varieties of ‘pastry.’ Potato flour is incredibly versatile, however, and works well in many breads and cakes and other ‘pastries’, and it is very handy for those who are gluten-intolerant.
We can buy potato flour easily enough these days, but for those of you who like to do things the old way, it is possible to make your own. It will be a good workout too, I promise.
Rasp the potatoes into a tub of cold water and change it repeatedly until the raspings fall to the bottom like paste; then dry it in the air, pound it in a mortar, and pass it through a hair sieve. It is nearly as nutritive, and much lighter, than wheaten flour; it is, therefore, preferable for making puddings and pastry for infants and invalids; a portion of it also improves the appearance of household bread, and dealers constantly pass it off as arrowroot. If kept dry, it will remain good for years.
Mrs. Hale's New Cook Book: A Practical System for Private Families in Town and Country; with Directions for Carving, and Arranging the Table for Parties, Etc. Also, Preparations of Food for Invalids and for Children (1857), by Mrs. Sara J. Hale
What are you going to make with your potato flour? There is no shortage of ideas in old cookery books. According to one book you can use it in ‘Pottage, Pudding, Diet loaf, Pastry, Pancakes, Jelly, and in the General Manufacture of Bread.’
Jelly? I hear you say. Here is the method, according to another unusual source of recipes, The farmer's guide, and agriculturist's companion (Edinburgh, 1829):
To make Jelly.
The farina of the potato is easily converted into jelly in the same manner as arrow-root, by diluting it with a little cold water or milk, and then gradually pouring into it boiling water, and stirring the mixture about; and in this shape it may be taken with a little milk and pounded sugar, for breakfast or supper, with the addition of some toasted bread or biscuit to those who are in health. Invalids, however, have found it useful to live almost entirely on this jelly. This makes a pleasant nourishing diet, which cannot be too much recommended, particularly for those who are recovering from illness. It may be improved by mixing a little berry or white wine.
It is proper here to observe, that the value of the farina, when converted into jelly as food, has not been sufficiently appreciated. It thus undergoes a chemical process, which seems greatly to augment its nutritive powers. This may be partly owing to the farina being cleared of that dark and bitter liquid with which the potato is originally impregnated, instead of which it is incorporated with pure and wholesome water, all the particles of which, when gelatinized, become convertible into animal matter by the efforts of the stomach. Hence those preparations of vegetables which gelatinize the greatest quantity of water will be found to afford the largest proportion of nutriment, and are consequently most beneficial to mankind.
And here is another light and elegant recipe using potato flour:
¾ cup sugar
½ cup potato flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Beat the yolks, sugar, water, and lemon juice together until thick and light. Sift the flour twice, then once with the baking powder and salt. Mix lightly with the first mixture. Fold in the whites beaten stiff and light. Bake twenty-five to thirty minutes in a moderate oven.
The Book of Potato Cookery (Chicago, 1918)
Quotation for the Day.
Without the potato, the balance of European power might never have tilted north.