Old-fashioned Mashed Potatoes


Mashed Potatoes are a quick and easy-to-make comfort food. It’s one of those foods that I never use a recipe to make. Long ago I learned how to boil the potatoes, whip them, add a little butter and milk, and whip a bit more to combine.

Given how easy it is to make Mashed Potatoes,  I was very surprised to discover a hundred-year-old recipe  for Mashed Potatoes that contained extensive detail.  Back then even the most complex recipes were generally short and lacked details,  Why would recipes for difficult-to-make foods leave a huge amount of latitude for interpretation, while a recipe for a basic food be very specific?

Source: Foods and Household Management: A Textbook of Household Arts (1915)
Source: Foods and Household Management: A Textbook of Household Arts (1915)

This recipe referred to two other recipes. One explained how to boil potatoes:


The other recipe mentioned in the Mashed Potato recipe was the Potato in the Half Shell recipe, which contained information about how much butter, milk, and salt should be used when making potatoes:


I generally use electric beaters to make “mashed” potatoes, but I decided to give the old-time recipe a try. I dug out my old potato masher out from under all my other seldom-used kitchen utensils in the back of bottom drawer in the kitchen cabinets, and made real mashed potatoes.

Here’s the old recipe updated for modern cooks:

Mashed Potatoes

  • Servings: 4-5 servings
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

4 cups potatoes, pared and cut into 1-inch cubes (4-6 potatoes) (I used red potatoes – though russets would also work well.)


1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon butter

approximately 1/4 cup milk

Put enough water into a  large saucepan so that it is about 1/3 filled; add salt and bring to a boil using high heat. Add diced potatoes; return to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes or  until the potatoes are very soft when poked with a fork. Remove from heat and drain. Using a wire potato masher, mash the potatoes until smooth.  Add the butter and half the milk. Mash a little more to combine. If the potatoes are too stiff, add additional milk until the potatoes reach the desired consistency. (Do not over-mash or the potatoes will get gummy.) Reheat the mashed potatoes using medium heat  To reheat, put the pan with the mashed potatoes back on the stove using medium heat for 15-30 seconds; stir once or twice. Remove from heat and put in serving dish.


27 thoughts on “Old-fashioned Mashed Potatoes

  1. Now I’m so hungry for mashed potatoes, I may have to give in. I don’t usually have them — I’ll bake sweet potatoes instead — but you’re right that they’re the best comfort food in the world. I’ve long given up the use of a potato masher in favor of the mixer, but I may give that old approach another try.

    1. I’d also long given up the use of my potato masher, but it was fun to try it again. I was surprised how easily and efficiently it mashed the potatoes.

  2. I have never heard of “butterine” before. I assume it is a butter substitute. My grandparents used to call margarine “oleo” and explained that it was white and that yellowing coloring had to be mixed in to it in order for it to resemble butter.

    1. My mother had similar stories about “oleo.” When she was young people who purchased oleo had to mix yellow coloring into the oleo after it was purchased. I think that it was against the law for companies to sell yellow oleo back then.

  3. Even simple things differ between England and America. We usually halve potatoes, unless they’re very large, rather than cube them. And I’m sure every English home has an old-fashioned potato masher: we don’t usually use electric mixers for spuds. But I’m sure all mashed potatoes, yours and ours, taste just as good wherever you live.

  4. It never really answered why not to rapid boil… I would of loved to hear that answer. 🙂 lol, I have tried to hurry potatoes cooking… makes a mess spitting potato water over the stove ..which if your not watching ,soon gives you a no water in the pan with blacken potato bottoms. A family favorite around here.

    1. How true- more often than I’d like to admit, I’ve accidently boiled away all the water on potatoes and ended up with burned potato bottoms. It can happen so quickly.

  5. That was very specific! My mother also insists on the importance of drying the potatoes completely before mashing, and I’ve since heard that heating the milk to room temperature before adding makes them creamier. I love all mashed potatoes, but I admit I’m not against trying any procedure that makes them even better!

    1. My daughter said that when she had a home economics class in middle school that the teacher also stressed the importance of steaming excess water off the cooked potatoes.

    1. Not much – It’s pretty similar to what I normally do, except I usually use my electric beaters instead of the wire masher. I think that the hand-mashed potatoes probably weren’t quite as smooth as whipped potatoes, but there really wasn’t much difference.

  6. I love mashed potatoes! Sometimes I add sour cream or cream cheese and minced garlic. I must be behind the times – I always use a potato masher and have never tried an electric mixer. Although as I get older I seem to be delegating the actual mashing of potatoes to the next generation…

  7. Mashed potatoes usually get mashed with a fork at my place! Our potatoes are sold as boilers, salad, bakers, mashers etc. If I buy the mashing potatoes I get better results than if I mash the other kinds. I wonder what varieties were common a hundred years ago.

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