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The Old Foodie

Shoo-Fly Potatoes?

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I have just come across a dish called "Shoo-fly potatoes" in a nineteenth century American menu.

I am most intrigued. Even on the other side of the world we have heard of a thing called "Shoo-fly Pie" (even if the details remain mysterious), but I have never, ever heard of Shoo-Fly Potatoes.

I have found a few recipes in 19th C American cookbooks, and they seem like French Fries to me, so perhaps I am missing something.

Your comments will be most welcome as to the name, the dish, if anyone still makes it - and anything else!

[The menu will be in my blog posting on the Fourth, if you are interested. I've got time to change it if I get any new info!]

Thanks, Janet


Happy Feasting

Janet (a.k.a The Old Foodie)

My Blog "The Old Foodie" gives you a short food history story each weekday day, always with a historic recipe, and sometimes a historic menu.

My email address is: theoldfoodie@fastmail.fm

Anything is bearable if you can make a story out of it. N. Scott Momaday

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Well, shoo-fly pie is a variation on the theme of pecan pie, which is a molasses or brown sugar custard pie. I really like it.

But, for cake or taters, I can't fathom it.


I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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The term appears in 1878 inn the recipe which I am using in my blog post next week (I'm giving the game away here, but what the hell, I'm among friends, right?)

It is from “Practical Cooking and Dinner Giving. A Treatise Containing Practical Instructions in Cooking; in the Combination and Serving of Dishes; and in the Fashionable Modes of Entertaining at Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner” (1878) by Mary Foote Henderson (which is on the <a href = "http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/">Feeding America</a> site.

SHOO-FLY POTATOES.

There is a machine which comes for the purpose of cutting shoo-fly potatoes; it costs two dollars and a half. The potatoes are cut into long strips like macaroni, excepting that the sides are square instead of round. They are thrown into boiling lard, sprinkled with salt as soon as done, and served as a vegetable alone, or as a garnish around meat.

Sounds like French Fries to me.


Happy Feasting

Janet (a.k.a The Old Foodie)

My Blog "The Old Foodie" gives you a short food history story each weekday day, always with a historic recipe, and sometimes a historic menu.

My email address is: theoldfoodie@fastmail.fm

Anything is bearable if you can make a story out of it. N. Scott Momaday

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They are French fries cooked in animal fat. In Paris there is a version of these, served at various bistros, where they are sauteed in animal fat (duck or lard usually) after being par-boiled in safflower oil. The most famous offering is at Au Moulin a Vent (Chez Henri) in the 5eme. The potato of choice in Paris is the bintje (in America, the Russet) and they are now cubed rather than left in a string shape (to draw a distinction between the two). It's in the American South where one can find, though rarely, potatos cooked in lard.

In America, the shape of the fry determines the name: string shaped are french fries; cubed are home fries; and the circle-cut are southern fried potatos.

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In America, the shape of the fry determines the name: string shaped are french fries; cubed are home fries; and the circle-cut are southern fried potatos.

So why Shoo-Fly potatoes? I can see how a sweet molasses-y pie would get the name.


Happy Feasting

Janet (a.k.a The Old Foodie)

My Blog "The Old Foodie" gives you a short food history story each weekday day, always with a historic recipe, and sometimes a historic menu.

My email address is: theoldfoodie@fastmail.fm

Anything is bearable if you can make a story out of it. N. Scott Momaday

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It sounds like spiral potatoes. Something like this, except that are wider and more square:

Spiral Potatoes

Were they used as a garnish around roasts?

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It sounds as if you've found a menu where somebody way back in the day conflated the idea of "shoestring" potatoes, potatoes made into long ribbons like shoestrings, and the shoofly concept in PA Dutch cooking.

I think you've found an ancient typo, more or less.


Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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It sounds like spiral potatoes. Something like this, except that are wider and more square:

Spiral Potatoes

Were they used as a garnish around roasts?

It sounds as if you've found a menu where somebody way back in the day conflated the idea of "shoestring" potatoes, potatoes made into long ribbons like shoestrings, and the shoofly concept in PA Dutch cooking. 

I think you've found an ancient typo, more or less.

I think it is unlikely to be a typo/conflation - not on behalf of the chef responsible for this specific menu anyway (an official presidential menu) - there are recipes with that name in several books, and apparently there was a piece of kitchen equipment to cut them. There would have to be some other connection than the starting phonetic "shoo" surely?

If they were spiral cut (and we might never know, unless someone finds an old description) - perphaps they were named because they looked like those long strips of sticky fly paper that used to hang from the ceiling???


Happy Feasting

Janet (a.k.a The Old Foodie)

My Blog "The Old Foodie" gives you a short food history story each weekday day, always with a historic recipe, and sometimes a historic menu.

My email address is: theoldfoodie@fastmail.fm

Anything is bearable if you can make a story out of it. N. Scott Momaday

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It would be very much in PA Dutch sense of humor to purposefully get the name wrong and perpetuate it using a more familiar word to them. Some fancy city-English comes along selling shoestring potato makers, and nobody wants to buy one. Somebody local notices them, produces one, and calls it a shoofly potato maker... and it would sell. That is a scenario totally within the realm of reason.

I still think you're dealing with a conflation.


Edited by cdh (log)

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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It would be very much in PA Dutch sense of humor to purposefully get the name wrong and perpetuate it using a more familiar word to them.  Some fancy city-English comes along selling shoestring potato makers, and nobody wants to buy one.  Somebody local notices them, produces one, and calls it a shoofly potato maker... and it would sell. That is a scenario totally within the realm of reason.

I still think you're dealing with a conflation.

Explanation due to sense of humour - now that's the sort of explanation I love! I would also love to find some more evidence of the dish, or the gadget too.

Come on the rest of you! I dont believe that no-one else has heard of this dish or this gadget.

Janet


Happy Feasting

Janet (a.k.a The Old Foodie)

My Blog "The Old Foodie" gives you a short food history story each weekday day, always with a historic recipe, and sometimes a historic menu.

My email address is: theoldfoodie@fastmail.fm

Anything is bearable if you can make a story out of it. N. Scott Momaday

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I don't know if this will help or not, but -

Amazon sells reprints of vintage catalogs. I once bought a Sears catalog reprint from 1904 (I believe) to see what the building materials and finishes looked like at that time. I used it to get ideas to restore an old Victorian that was built in 1898. They had cooking utensils in there as well. Back then, Sears was the source for just about everything; believe it or not, you could buy *all* the materials from them to build a house. They were like Wal-Mart and Home Depot all rolled into one. They sure aren't what they used to be.

My best recommendation would be to get your hands on the oldest Sears catalog you can, and see if the device is in there. Other than that, I haven't a clue.


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Come on the rest of you! I dont believe that no-one else has heard of this dish or this gadget.

Janet

I've delved into all of my old cook books, including the one my great great grandmother took overland to Kansas with her in the late 1800's and cannot find anything with that name AND that description.

I've found some sweet potato recipes from the Boston Cooking School book, 1907, that have some portions that resemble something like that would be used in Shoo Fly Pie, but the description of the potato prep is not anything like what you describe.


Edited by Bombdog (log)

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Are you sure the meaning (or the wording) wasn't souffle potatoes? These are twice fried potato slices that pouf up during the second fry so there's a pouf of air surrounded by crispy potato on both sides. Just a thought... :hmmm:


"Commit random acts of senseless kindness"

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This has most likely nothing to do with your Shoo-Fly potatoes, but the mention of the molasses and the pie made me think of a Danish potato recipe that called for sautéeing par-boiled potatoes in butter and sugar -- the sugar helped create a very crisp, outside layer. It just stuck in my memory since it seemed a little unusual.

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Are you sure the meaning (or the wording) wasn't souffle potatoes?

Absolutely certain the wording is "shoo-fly potatoes". The image of the menu is somewhere in the American Memory Archive (but I cant for the life off me find the exact location right now! When I do I will post it), and I am looking at my print-off of it now.

I am giving away my Fourth of July blog posting here (well, part of it anyway), but the menu transcription is :

"Banquet given to the President by the Commissioners and Board of Finance of the Centennial Commission at Belmont Fairmont Park, July 4th 1873"

POTAGES

Consomme au Nid d’Hirondelles

Puree de Choux-fleur a la Reine

Old Amontillado Sherry

HORS D’OEVRES

Petits Bouchees aux Queues d’Ecrivisses

Johannisberg Cabinet

Ruedesheimer Berg

RELEVES

Chapon Braisee a la Monte Christo

Filet de Boeuf a la Godared

Filet de Boeuf a la Belmont

Petits Pois Tomatoes farcies

Shoo-fly potatoes

CHAMPAGNE

Union League Cabinet

Louis Roederer, Carte Blanche

Geisler & Co., Dry Sillery.

ENTREES

Filets de Cannetons a la Rgence

Poulets en Supreme a la Toulouse

Pain de Gibier a la Charles XV.

VIN

Chateau Larose

GIBIER

Becasses roties, sur Canapee

Salade de Laitue de Tomates

VIN

Champagne frappe

Mumm’s extra dry

GLACE

Corbeille de Fruits Corbeille de fleurs

PIECES MONTEES

Charlotte Parisienne

Chalets rustic a la Fairmount

Pyramid en Nougat Historic.

VIN

Grand Vin Chambertins.

ENTREMETS

Pudding Diplomate glacee

DEMI TASSE

Cigars de Havanne

It was the oddity of something called "shoo-fly potatoes" amongst all those classical consommes and bouchees etc that stood out to me.


Happy Feasting

Janet (a.k.a The Old Foodie)

My Blog "The Old Foodie" gives you a short food history story each weekday day, always with a historic recipe, and sometimes a historic menu.

My email address is: theoldfoodie@fastmail.fm

Anything is bearable if you can make a story out of it. N. Scott Momaday

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That menu appears, from its title, to have been served at the Belmont mansion in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park. That is some fine circumstantial evidence that the use of the term "shoo-fly" is a bit of local PA Dutch color, rather than a citation to a real dish.

I wonder if one of the guests at this dinner came in from Dutch country into the city and the dish was added to the menu in their honor, or at least as a subtle wink in somebody's general direction.

The Centennial in Philadelphia was a huge event, so records of who attended that dinner should be available someplace... the Centennial Commission's records are certainly someplace that the Historical Society of Pennsylvania should be able to find them. This must be a fairly early meeting of that Commission, since the Centennial was still three full years off. The reference desk at the Free Library of Philadelphia might also be a good place to start, as it appears that the Free Library has a significant collection of Centennial Commission related publications. If the "president" mentioned is the President of the US, that would have been Ulysses S. Grant, whose parents were Pennsylvanians. Plenty of familiarity with the "shoo-fly" nomenclature, and maybe the source of the pun/conflation.


Edited by cdh (log)

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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That menu appears, from its title, to have been served at the Belmont mansion in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park.  That is some fine circumstantial evidence that the use of the term "shoo-fly" is a bit of local PA Dutch color, rather than a citation to a real dish.

I wonder if one of the guests at this dinner came in from Dutch country into the city and the dish was added to the menu in their honor, or at least as a subtle wink in somebody's general direction. 

The Centennial in Philadelphia was a huge event, so records of who attended that dinner should be available someplace... the Centennial Commission's records are certainly someplace that the Historical Society of Pennsylvania should be able to find them.  This must be a fairly early meeting of that Commission, since the Centennial was still three full years off.  The reference desk at the Free Library of Philadelphia might also be a good place to start, as it appears that the Free Library has a significant collection of Centennial Commission related publications.  If the "president" mentioned is the President of the US, that would have been Ulysses S. Grant, whose parents were Pennsylvanians.  Plenty of familiarity with the "shoo-fly" nomenclature, and maybe the source of the pun/conflation.

Thanks Chris, I'll see if I can get any information from those sources.

Perhaps it was a favourite dish of Pres. Grant's family?

The official menu details aside, as a recipe for the dish appeared in several cookbooks of the time, I find it hard to believe that there is not some informal record of it somewhere.


Happy Feasting

Janet (a.k.a The Old Foodie)

My Blog "The Old Foodie" gives you a short food history story each weekday day, always with a historic recipe, and sometimes a historic menu.

My email address is: theoldfoodie@fastmail.fm

Anything is bearable if you can make a story out of it. N. Scott Momaday

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Are you sure the meaning (or the wording) wasn't souffle potatoes? These are twice fried potato slices that pouf up during the second fry so there's a pouf of air surrounded by crispy potato on both sides. Just a thought... :hmmm:

I wouldn't be too quick to dismiss this suggestion, "shoo-fly" being a fairly obvious American misproununciation of "souffle," perhaps done deliberately & with humorous intent. That might make it doubly appropriate for this particular event, beyond what Chris has suggested, given all of the fancy French items on the menu.

I note these items on the menu under GLACE --

Chalets rustic a la Fairmount

Pyramid en Nougat Historic.

-- which seem to me, at least on the surface, evidence that some whimsy went into the construction of this menu. There's also the "Filet de Boeuf a la Belmont" which also ties in with the location of the dinner.


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I found this mention in a search of Mrs. Lincoln's Boston Cookbook (Mrs. D.A. Lincoln, 1884)

And this mention in a work of fiction (Dr. Zay, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, 1882):

But that poor little editor, Mr. Yorke, I wish you could have made his acquaintance. The table-girl at the Sherman House told my girl hen' lost his appetite to that pass he wouldn't eat a thing but shoo-fly potatoes. Think," added Mrs. Butterwell, with a gravity which deepened to solemnity, "of supporting an honorable and unrequited affection on shoo-fly potatoes!"

So, it looks like it was a real dish, however briefly. From Mrs. Lincoln's description, it sounds like fried julienne of potatoes.


Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

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Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

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Mrs Lincoln describes them as:

"Macaroni, or Shoo Fly, Potatoes are cut in quarter-inch slices, then in quarter-inch strips."

So, 1 menu mention in 1873

1 mention in a work of fiction

2 cookbook mentions so far, 1877, and 1884.

[edited to include the fiction mention]


Edited by The Old Foodie (log)

Happy Feasting

Janet (a.k.a The Old Foodie)

My Blog "The Old Foodie" gives you a short food history story each weekday day, always with a historic recipe, and sometimes a historic menu.

My email address is: theoldfoodie@fastmail.fm

Anything is bearable if you can make a story out of it. N. Scott Momaday

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Heh. I wonder if, a century from now, foodies will be similarly scratching their heads over the name "freedom fries" -- "gee, they seemed to get a ton of press for a few years in there, then they vanished off the face of the culinary map! Anybody over in the States ever hear of them?" :laugh:

It does give one pause--how many other food terms over the years had their fifteen minutes of fame and fashion and then disappeared?

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Heh. I wonder if, a century from now, foodies will be similarly scratching their heads over the name "freedom fries" -- "gee, they seemed to get a ton of press for a few years in there, then they vanished off the face of the culinary map! Anybody over in the States ever hear of them?" :laugh:

It does give one pause--how many other food terms over the years had their fifteen minutes of fame and fashion and then disappeared?

Clever one, mizducky! Perhaps that's the explanation that fits with the other suggestions: someone invented, tweaked, or re-named a dish for a special guest (e.g the President of the USA) as a nod to a personal story that has been lost (so far) to obscurity, and it was then picked up by a few authors, but lost again.

If someone finds a reference before 1873, the plot will thicken.


Happy Feasting

Janet (a.k.a The Old Foodie)

My Blog "The Old Foodie" gives you a short food history story each weekday day, always with a historic recipe, and sometimes a historic menu.

My email address is: theoldfoodie@fastmail.fm

Anything is bearable if you can make a story out of it. N. Scott Momaday

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Mrs Lincoln describes them as: 

"Macaroni, or Shoo Fly, Potatoes are cut in quarter-inch slices, then in quarter-inch strips."

So, 1 menu mention in 1873

1 mention in a work of fiction

2 cookbook mentions so far, 1877, and 1884.

[edited to include the fiction mention]

Dont forget that Macaroni was a derisive term that meant Fancy ...

stuck a feather in hat and called it Macaroni....

Happy 4th

tracey


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