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Mashed Potato Theory 101


Jenny McClure
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Hi all

I recently found out that I am pregnant, so to try and gain a bit more insight into what to expect, I joined a forum. Of course cravings/food aversions are big topics. I know that not everyone is a whiz in the kitchen, me being one of them, but I have to say my jaw dropped when, a girl asked how to make mashed potatoes from scratch. :shock: What other way is there? Needles to say there where some quite amusing replies.

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The other way is to get mashed potato flakes in a package, follow the directions, and there you have it: mashed potatoes not from scratch. You can also purchase them pre-made, and all you have to do is warm them up.

My husband and I have tried the pre-made, and one brand is not bad; the rest were pretty nasty. I still make them from scratch. The pre-made are on a "reserve" list for days when I might be under the weather or something, and need comfort food but don't want to cook. Fortunately, that rarely happens.

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Hi. My name is Dave. I didn't know how to make mashed potatoes until I was 31 years old.

You know what? I don't remember when I learned to make mashed potatoes, but it was certainly well along into adulthood because it was one of those things my mom just never, ever made. Not sure why. I don't particularly recall her making instant "mashed potatoes" either. And she sure didn't shy away from other potato dishes--we had baked potatoes all the time. For whatever reason, mashed just wasn't on her culinary radar scope somehow, and thus it wasn't on mine either for a good long while.

If I were to hazard a guess, my mom probably didn't grow up eating mashed potatoes either (I think her immigrant parents were more into potato kugels and latkes). As a young bride, Mom did teach herself a number of all-American dishes out of her 1950s Betty Crocker and Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks. But knowing her food quirks well, I'd be willing to bet cash money that she looked at all the butter and cream and gravy in the mashed potato recipes in those books, had one of her odd little diet-freak attacks, and vetoed them. All the odder since baked potatoes with all the stuff we'd put on them wasn't particularly slimming--let alone kugels and latkes, though she'd make those very infrequently. Ahhh yes--food behavior is frequently illogical ... :rolleyes:

Anyway--yeah, no home-mashed potatoes for me until I was well along in years. And I still do it very seldom, and still prefer them baked or roasted or whatever. Even though I do like the occasional side of mashed in restaurants.

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Hi. My name is Dave. I didn't know how to make mashed potatoes until I was 31 years old.

And were you pregnant? :wink:

Not me! I'm of the generation that said "We're pregnant," but Thing One would have been two at the time, with the Girl still almost two years off.

You know what? I don't remember when I learned to make mashed potatoes, but it was certainly well along into adulthood because it was one of those things my mom just never, ever made. Not sure why. I don't particularly recall her making instant "mashed potatoes" either. And she sure didn't shy away from other potato dishes--we had baked potatoes all the time. For whatever reason, mashed just wasn't on her culinary radar scope somehow, and thus it wasn't on mine either for a good long while.

This is familiar ground. Mom loved flakes (remember Potato Buds?) or a styofoam tub from the Colonel, but she never mashed. She didn't hesitate to make dishes that were more difficult to make than mashed, like scalloped, though.

I don't remember what the impetus was for me to finally take them on. I learned from my mother-in-law, so it might have been during prep for a Thanksgiving dinner when I was in haute chef mode. Odd that I didn't learn as a line cook, but this was the late 70s - early 80s, and they just weren't on many menus.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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My mother handed off mashed potatoes to my brother and me when I was ten and he was eight. I peeled and drained, added the butter and warm milk. Ian whaled away with the potato masher -- it was both a feat of strength for him and a point of pride: No Lumps Ever!

I find that a food mill is sturdier than a ricer, but I often take the Rube Goldberg device to the pan of spuds when I'm having an authenticity spasm. I don't mind a couple of lumps.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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I feel bad for scoffing at her now. I guess growing up in Ireland where mashed potatoes are such a common thing at home and in restaurants, it's such a no brainer for me. Obviously that is not the case for everyone and if Mum has never made them or they were not a common food group (in our household mashed potatoes are a food group) then I guess it is perfectly reasonable not to know how to make them.

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I feel bad for scoffing at her now.  I guess growing up in Ireland where  mashed potatoes are such a common thing at home and in restaurants, it's such a no brainer for me.  Obviously that is not the case for everyone and if Mum has never made them or they were not a common food group (in our household mashed potatoes are a food group) then I guess it is perfectly reasonable not to know how to make them.

Now that is interesting. I never would have thought that mashed potatoes had so much culture behind it. (I'm not being snide.) True confessions: I never made mashed potatoes. It's the kosher stuff. We were a meat and potatoes family (my father was a butcher.) Potatoes always with dinner. Since dinner was always meat, and mashed potates have milk and butter in them, we never had mashed potatoes. We just had potates that were mashed with a fork. Not quite the same thing. :smile: I never had the instant mashed potatoes.

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I feel bad for scoffing at her now.  I guess growing up in Ireland where  mashed potatoes are such a common thing at home and in restaurants, it's such a no brainer for me.  Obviously that is not the case for everyone and if Mum has never made them or they were not a common food group (in our household mashed potatoes are a food group) then I guess it is perfectly reasonable not to know how to make them.

Hi Jenny--

I don't know where your mashed-potato-novice correspondent hails from, but at least here in the US we often run into a phenomenon where a whole generation of folks did not get basic from-scratch cooking instruction handed down to them by the previous generation, on account of that previous generation becoming enamored of all the convenience foods of the 1950s. Then there's cases like mine, in which our immigrant grandparents or parents simply didn't cook those dishes to start with. Those of us who grew up to become food geeks despite, or sometimes because of, this vacuum of intergenerational cooking lore have had to do a helluva lotta catch-up! :laugh:

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It's the kosher stuff. We were a meat and potatoes family (my father was a butcher.) Potatoes always with dinner. Since dinner was always meat, and mashed potates have milk and butter in them, we never had mashed potatoes. We just had potates that were mashed with a fork. Not quite the same thing.  :smile: I never had the instant mashed potatoes.

Good God! I never, ever thought about this - even after spending my teenage years eating at friends "kosher-at-home" houses (you know - the ones who eat cheeseburgers at Little Tavern, BLTs at your house and all manner of Chinese food, but at home they are strictly kosher :laugh:)! That means (following this realization to it's logical conclusion) no drippings gravy on mashed potatoes, either. No wonder my buds loved eating at our house on fried chicken and pork chop night :laugh::laugh: !

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Now that is interesting. I never would have thought that mashed potatoes had so much culture behind it. (I'm not being snide.) True confessions: I never made mashed potatoes. It's the kosher stuff. We were a meat and potatoes family (my father was a butcher.) Potatoes always with dinner. Since dinner was always meat, and mashed potates have milk and butter in them, we never had mashed potatoes. We just had potates that were mashed with a fork. Not quite the same thing.  :smile: I never had the instant mashed potatoes.

Duh! No wonder my mom didn't grow up making mashed potatoes! :laugh: It's easy for me to forget, because my family was, and is, not religiously observant; but still, cultural tradition lingered, and so, yep, no mixing of dairy and meat on Bubbe's dinner table.

Interestingly, my mom cheerfully (and rebelliously?) taught herself to cook all kinds of treyf ... but still, there's that odd omission of the mashed potatoes ... alas, she's no longer around for me to ask her what was up with that.

Edited by mizducky (log)
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. . . .

I find that a food mill is sturdier than a ricer, but I often take the Rube Goldberg device to the pan of spuds when I'm having an authenticity spasm.  I don't mind a couple of lumps.

I like a few lumps, unless I'm going after something in the Robuchon-style. Depending on what they're to accompany, I might use one of those wire things, a heavy fork, a food mill or (as MIL Pauline taught me) a stand mixer. I still don't own a ricer.

I feel bad for scoffing at her now.  I guess growing up in Ireland where  mashed potatoes are such a common thing at home and in restaurants, it's such a no brainer for me.  Obviously that is not the case for everyone and if Mum has never made them or they were not a common food group (in our household mashed potatoes are a food group) then I guess it is perfectly reasonable not to know how to make them.

What kind of potatoes do you use? Are russets (what some yanks call "Idahoes") easily available in Ireland -- if one isn't a close friend of Jack Lang, that is?
. . . .

I never had the instant mashed potatoes.

. . . here in the US we often run into a phenomenon where a whole generation of folks did not get basic from-scratch cooking instruction handed down to them by the previous generation, on account of that previous generation becoming enamored of all the convenience foods of the 1950s . . .

The pendulum swings both ways: my children only know potato flakes as a potential coating for fried fish.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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Kosher mashed potatoes - scoff all you will, but with margarine (or schmaltz) and some chicken stock you can enjoy some good fleishig mashed potatoes.

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Now that is interesting. I never would have thought that mashed potatoes had so much culture behind it. (I'm not being snide.) True confessions: I never made mashed potatoes. It's the kosher stuff. We were a meat and potatoes family (my father was a butcher.) Potatoes always with dinner. Since dinner was always meat, and mashed potates have milk and butter in them, we never had mashed potatoes. We just had potates that were mashed with a fork. Not quite the same thing.  :smile: I never had the instant mashed potatoes.

My immediate family never kept kosher, but my dad's parents did. Bubbe made mashed potatoes for every meal we had at her house. I never thought about the kosher thing until after she died (she stopped cooking a few years before that because of old age/ bad health). Anyway, I realized that she made hers with chicken broth and schmatlz. Then she topped them with carmelized onions and baked them to brown the top. They were the second best part of the meal (the first being the matza ball soup).

I rarely make mashed potatoes myself, but I might have to give Bubbe's version a try sometime soon.

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Kosher mashed potatoes - scoff all you will, but with  margarine (or schmaltz) and some chicken stock you can enjoy some good fleishig mashed potatoes.

That does sound perfectly yummy.

Okay, then I'm stumped as to why my family didn't do mashed potatoes at all. I fall back on my theory about my mom's peculiarly selective anti-fat attitude. :unsure:

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I don't know where your mashed-potato-novice correspondent hails from, but at least here in the US we often run into a phenomenon where a whole generation of folks did not get basic from-scratch cooking instruction handed down to them by the previous generation, on account of that previous generation becoming enamored of all the convenience foods of the 1950s.

I had a roommate in college whose mother cooked everything from packages and cans -- including mashed potatoes -- so she never learned to really cook. She was out of college at her future mother-in-law's house when she finally learned how to make them from scratch.

My mother made mashed potatoes often, and always from scratch (although she'd use the Betty Crocker boxed scalloped potato mix), but hers were the "whipped" variety -- made with the hand mixer and lots of milk. That's how I learned, but I prefer a ricer now.

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I grew up in a house where mashed potatoes meant flakes from a box, skim milk, and margarine (very little). I didn't learn how to make them from scratch until after college, when I realized that fresh potatoes were a lot cheaper than that little box of flakes. Took a little while to get the hang of it - had a couple of instances of uncooked lumps, and then once when I forgot I was boiling potatoes and ended up with potato soup....

Marcia.

Don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted...he lived happily ever after. -- Willy Wonka

eGullet foodblog

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Other than avoiding peeling potatoes, what, exactly, is the advantage of instant mashed, and whatever it is, is it worth the trade-off for something that sounds more like wallpaper paste than food?

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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Other than avoiding peeling potatoes, what, exactly, is the advantage of instant mashed, and whatever it is, is it worth the trade-off for something that sounds more like wallpaper paste than food?

Well, there's the peeling and the watching and the draining and the smashing/mashing/whipping/ricing/seasoning things. But there is No Tradeoff, especially because if you have the right small thin-skinned potatoes you don't even have to peel: just boil-em in their jackets and lightly smash in the skin.

And, I agree: whatever the nutritional stuff says on the package of instant mashed potatoes, it's just edible library paste.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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