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Spud Sunday: Spuds Of A Younger Land

Mashed potatoes! The beatings, the maulings, and the ultimate degradation to a which an honest Irish potato must submit tomorrow turn me sad-eyed from my plate.

Claire Warner Churchill, From “An Oregon Protest Against Mashed Potatoes”

Now there’s a woman who doesn’t mince her words. The quote above is just a small extract from a 5 page complaint about potatoes being “fluffed, whipped, paddled, pounded, beaten, bruised, crushed, flouced and shaken, but never – oh the pity of it – never mashed”. Notwithstanding the fact that I am intrigued by the notion of flounced potatoes, I have a certain amount of sympathy with the woman’s stated position on what some people do in the name of mash.

The piece is contained in Mark Kurlansky’s book Food of a Younger Land, which presents a selection of material written for the America Eats project during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. The project was shelved because of the onset of America’s participation in WW2 and such material as had been written was archived and, until recently, largely forgotten about.

Mark Kurlansky 's Food of a Younger Land

I first came across the book when I was in the States earlier this year and heard a radio interview with the author on KQED. I quickly started taking notes. The minute I got wind of a multi-page rant about mashed potatoes, I knew that I would have to get my hands on a copy, if for no other reason than that.

While the mashed potato article is probably the most entertaining individual piece in the book, it is, as a collection, a fascinating peek at American eating in the days before frozen food, fast food and the advent of the national highway system. A time when people didn’t have to make a point of their food being regional and seasonal because that’s simply the way things were by default. In fact, our mashed potato advocate had this to say about spuds and seasonality:

Of course grandma had sense enough not to try to serve mashed potatoes the year round… (she) would have been shocked if anyone ever intimated that a mashed potato could be served before autumn.

She makes an excellent point. Firm new potatoes do not a good mash make, so you’ll have spuds at their early summer best if simply boiled or used in salads. Besides, life is more interesting if mash is off the menu for at least a few months of the year. As for flounced potatoes, it seems that it might be best to avoid them altogether.


  1. jenn

    But I like my mashed potatoes. ;-) But once in a long while. I usually prefer them baked or roasted in cubes.

    Interesting read. I had to look the word “flounced” Just to be sure I thinking it correctly. hehe…

  2. OysterCulture

    I haven’t started this book yet, but its on my nightstand. I have read with great enjoyment several of MK’s other books including; Salt, Cod, The Big Oyster. The subject of this one was very intriguing and I can imagine it is a good read indeed. You’ve just cause it to move up on the stack.

  3. Marc @ NoRecipes

    Great tip on this book. I actually live in the States and haven’t heard of it, but it’s going on my Amazon list now.

  4. Phyllis (me HUNGRY!)

    A 5 page rant about mashed potatoes! Reason alone to buy this book. Thanks for the great tip :)

  5. Jenni

    I’m with Marc–this is going on my list. Sounds like it’s worth it for the Potato Tantrum alone!

  6. Tangled Noodle

    Hmmm, if I can tear myself away from my laptop, I may actually start reading something on paper rather than onscreen! This book has been on my to-read list since I first read early reviews but we’ll have to see when I can get to it. However, this is an intriguing teaser!

    Honestly, I’d rather ‘mash’ a potato than beating or bruising it – that just sounds like spud cruelty!

  7. gastroanthropologist

    I got into a heated debate last Thanksgiving with a Brit about how Americans didn’t know how to roast a potato! I think what she was trying to say was that Americans love mashed potatoes like no other. I guess that’s true. I love potatoes in almost any form, but if I had to pick the way I like them best it is probably mashed. But it does depend on the type of potato used, some just are better mashed than others. Off topic – In your spud research have you come across a Kennebec…are they grown on this side of the Atlantic? In the US they are king for making french fries and I’ve been trying to get my hands on some…

  8. Daily Spud

    jenn: yep, you don’t often see the word flounced in the same sentence as potatoes!

    Oyster Culture: I haven’t read any of MK’s other books but would be very interested in doing so now

    Marc: enjoy!

    Phyllis: you’re welcome – I certainly thought it good enough reason to buy :)

    Jenni: indeed – and there would likely be even more to interest you in the book, you being a native Statesider ‘n’ all

    Tangled Noodle: I agree, such things should be reported to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Spuds!

    gastroanthropologist: of course some spuds are better mashed than others and it is hard to beat a good plate of mash and gravy for real comfort eating; as to the Kennebec, I haven’t heard tell of it being grown over here – I do know that the favoured potato of the British chip shop is Maris Piper and I’ve even read reports of British Maris Pipers being imported into Ireland by chip shop owners, who say that the ones grown here do not make as good a chip

  9. aoife mc

    This lady would have wept if she’d seen my mash from our first come dine with me. Honestly, I could have used the leftover spuds as poly-filler.

    Onwards and upwards!

  10. SippitySup

    I have learned moe about the Spud from you, now this! Entertaining indeed. You may have just sold a book!GREG

  11. Daily Spud

    aoife mc: onwards and upwards indeed, things can only get better on the mash front!

    SippitySup: based on the comments so far, sounds like I might have sold a few books

  12. Chef E

    Another post that has made me giddy! Books to read, books to read have I…but of course I admit…I made mashed potatoes last night…shame shame on me *eyes to the ground* and its not even Labor Day…

  13. Daily Spud

    Ah, it’s not a crime Chef E – at least not one that they can send you to prison for, lol!

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