“What,” you say, “MASHED POTATOES?”

As Cousin Hallie said when I asked her to write about Mashed Potatoes, “Karen, are you out of your gourd?”

Now, was that kind of you, Hallie?

The truth is, we all grew up eating mashed potatoes, and they bring back a lot of memories to us, memories connected to moms, grandmas, and home.

In the days when people didn’t have unlimited funds for store-bought food, and there wasn’t too much available anyway, potatoes were a staple of the diet. They were cheap, nutritious, and easy to grow. Don’t believe the hype about the low carb diet, which maligns the good old potato that all of us grew up on. It is packed full of vitamins and other nutrients.

I have asked some of you to write your memories of mashed potatoes, just to sit down and write the first thing that comes to your mind, in five minutes.

As we might suspect, Gerry Dickens, our Barrett-line cousin, went all out and wrote a thesis good enough for a doctoral dissertation! Well, we will begin with her story, then add a few others. Mine is somewhere buried in a notebook, untyped, but I will find it in the next few weeks and paste it here.

Later, I’ll try to find some art and photos to go on the page. Be looking for a photo of yourself that would illustrate the age you were when your mashed potato story occurred!

by Gerry Dickens, cousin on Barrett line

Ever since Spanish explorers found the Incas cultivating the tuber known as a potato, cooks have been trying new recipes for this food. They are baked, boiled, fried, steamed, scalloped, microwaved, grilled and roasted. Potatoes can be prepared in many ways, they are loaded with vitamins and are very economical. Potatoes can be served any time of the day - breakfast, lunch, supper and snacks. Anyway you prepare them, potatoes taste great!

I love mashed potatoes. My mother always had the fluffiest , best tasting mashed potatoes. I remember once she had a big bowl of potatoes placed on the table when we had company coming. She had carefully made little waves in the top but I thought they should be smooth so I took a spoon and pressed out all the waves until they were perfectly level. She was so angry and everyone teased me mercilessly.

Cooking is a learned art and is not inherited. I have never been able to duplicate my mother’s mashed potatoes. Indeed, there have been some disasters I have tried to forget. There was the time I wanted to impress my in-laws with my culinary art. My potatoes turned out bland and gluey. You could have plastered a wall with them. I had made gravy also. The gravy did not turn out well either, prompting one smart-mouth to say “Is this gravy? It must be, it’s in a gravy bowl.”

Determined to improve my cooking, I proceeded to read every mashed potato recipe that could be found. Over time, I learned a lot about potatoes. Making mashed potatoes is not a simple job; there are decisions to be made.

Which kind of potato should be chosen? Any type of potato can be used for mashing. Red potatoes have less starch and high water content while Russet (Idaho) potatoes have less moisture but high starch content.

Which cooking method should be used? Boiling or simmering in enough water to cover the potatoes is the usual method. Steaming is another recommended method. The potatoes can be peeled or the skin left on; potato skins contain fiber, vitamins and minerals. Cook the potatoes until fork tender; do not undercook, do not overcook

Should they be quartered, cubed or left whole? Potatoes cook faster when cut up and they are easier to mash. Boiled whole potatoes are said to have a better taste but they take twice as long to cook. Potatoes need to be cooked in as short a time as possible to avoid gumminess. Drain the potatoes well after they are done, place back over heat until all the excess moisture is removed.

Which utensil should be used for mashing? A fork, potato masher, wire whisk, ricer were all given as the best method to make perfect mashed potatoes. Food processors and mixers tend to break down the cells and releases their starch, and the pulp turns to glue. An up and down motion should be used to mash the potatoes when using a masher or fork.

What should be added to the potatoes for flavor? It seems that just about anything will work; cream cheese, milk, cream, butter, broth, cheese, mayonnaise, garlic, nutmeg, salt, pepper and other personal preferences. Pureed garlic is a popular additive. To roast garlic drizzle the bulbs with olive oil, wrap in aluminum foil, bake at 300 degrees F for 30 minutes.

Most people prefer the mashed potatoes they grew up with. My favorite is medium Russet potatoes, peeled, cut in large chunks and simmered until tender. After they are drained and still hot, push through a colander with the back of a spoon (I do not own a potato ricer). Add warm Half-and-Half, lots of butter, salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg to tame the earthy taste.

In the 1960s a new dance called the Mashed Potato was very popular. Dancers would stomp around as if mashing potatoes with their feet. This was about the same time that dehydrated potato flakes were introduced. The dance did not continue very long but instant potatoes are still with us.

Instant mashed potatoes can be used if time is short, for camping trips or anytime you do not want to use the longer method. My friend, Fay, liked to tell the story about her young son who explained to his kindergarten classmates that the way to make mashed potatoes was “Pour some out of the box, put some water in, mix them up and eat them up”. That pretty well covers it except you can taste the difference.

Frozen Mashed potatoes is another product we can purchase today. These potatoes can be heated in the microwave or a double boiler. They can be added to other ingredients for casseroles. You can also freeze the mashed potatoes that you make.

Potatoes are complex carbohydrates. With today’s low carb diets potato consumption has been drastically reduced. There is good news; a new potato with a third less carbohydrate content will be in our markets by 2005.

Mashed potatoes will always be a comfort food that will never go out of style.

Just ask the Spud Stud at your house.

Gerry Dickens
Clinton, Mississippi

by Hallie Lowe Johnson

Mashed potatoes are one of the first foods I remember eating. When relatives would go visit my grandparents, my Granny had mashed potatoes with her big meal.  They were served  in a large round bowl with lots of black pepper.  Of course, she usually served  cream gravy to spoon on top.  

Mashed white potatoes are not the only mashed potatoes that are good.  I could make a meal with a baked sweet potato mashed with butter.  Sweet potatoes are my most favorite food.

by Vera Wimberly
Montgomery County genealogist and historian

My mother said in her most authoritative voice, "No, you cannot peel the potatoes!  If you want to do something, go empty the pan under the icebox!"  

"But, Momma, I want to help with the mashed potatoes.," I whined. "Why can't I peel the potatoes?"  

"You just peel them all away.  I've got more time than I have potatoes, so you set the table.  I'll peel the potatoes."  Momma meant business, so I gave up.  I knew that when she finished the mashed potatoes that there would be creamed milk gravy to put on top and they would be very good.  

That is what I remembered when I had to explain to my husband that I didn't know how to peel potatoes.  Momma never let me.  She never wasted a thing.  She would scrub the potatoes within an inch of their lives and then take the peeling and sometimes fry them in hot grease and we ate them like potato chips.  

To this day, I don't peel potatoes.  If there were potatoes to peel for French fries, or for mashed potatoes, Scott peeled them.  But I'll tell you one thing.  I surely do make a wicked bowl of instant mashed potatoes.  

Moral to this story:  There is more than one way to mash the potato.  

by Michael McCann
Karen’s brother

When I think of mashed potatoes the first story that comes to mind is when we were all having dinner around Aunt Elsie's long dining room table. We were passing the food around when all of a sudden Aunt Elsie said, "DON WAYNE!!"

And we all look over at Don and he's loading his tall ice tea glass with mashed potatoes and the tea's overflowing all over the table and Aunt Elsie's fancy lace table cloth.

Karen’s note: Don Wayne is our absent-minded cousin who is something of an electronics genius, my mom's nephew.

by Marilyn Lee Dowdy, cousin on Barrett line

Now, I'm the middle child. I've read that middle children have no memories because they're too busy making sure their siblings aren't having more fun. My fondest mashed potato memory bears this out.

My younger sister Tammy was born when I was 9 years and 7 months old. The other siblings were 16, 15, 12, and 7. Needless to say she ruled the roost. My mama is a great cook, and I can still almost smell the chicken frying and biscuits coming out of the oven fat and fluffy, fresh green butterbeans swimming in bacon fat, and of course, a big pot of boiling potatoes, drained and mashed with fresh milk and real cow butter. That was what Tammy (and the rest of us) called the best meal ever. Tammy actually asked for it item by item at least once a week. Now Daddy liked his cornbread, and no matter what we ate, he had a pan of hot cornbread with it.

On one particular night, as we hurriedly got the supper ready, we decided not to make the biscuits and just have cornbread. We finally got all the food onto the table and all nine of us were seated; we each said our blessing in turn from youngest to oldest, and eagerly raised our heads and lifted our arms to start "passing" the food. All of a sudden Tammy lets out this bloodcurdling yell, and all of us jumped, all trying to talk at once, all trying to find out what had stung, bit, hit, burned, scratched or otherwise harmed our little darling. When things finally quieted down, she said, "Ya'll know I can't eat fried chicken and mashed potatoes without biscuits!"

Throughout her six years away at college, and even to this day, when Tammy goes home to eat, she still calls ahead to let Mama know to fix her "Meal".

Marilyn Lee Dowdy Louisville, MS

Karen McCann Hett

Last modified August 1, 2004

© Karen McCann Hett  All Rights Reserved 2004