1921 Tips for Cooking Potatoes

boiled potatoes in panI often make boiled potatoes. I think that they are out of style and considered old-fashioned; but, to be totally honest, I enjoy meals that feature meat and boiled potatoes.  A hundred years ago boiled potatoes were more popular than they are now. Here are some 1921 tips for cooking potatoes:

The method used in cooking potatoes has much to do with the food value. Baking or boiling “in their jackets” saves the food value. Peeling and then boiling causes some loss of the mineral matter and protein, since these foodstuffs are found just under the skin of the potato and may be lost when it is pared, unless very thin peelings are removed.

Potatoes, to be cooked, should be put in boiling water, not in cold, as soaking peeled potatoes in cold water draws out the starch and also causes a loss of protein and mineral matter. Potatoes should never soak in cold water after they are peeled, if all of the food value is to be saved. If they are old and withered, they should be freshened by soaking before the skin is removed. Potatoes should be removed from the boiling water as soon as they are done.

Baked potatoes, when done, should have the skin broken or pierced with a fork to all the escape of the steam, which would cause the potato to be soggy.

Elementary Home Economics (1921) by Mary Lockwood Matthews

I just realized that I don’t follow these directions. I generally peel potatoes before boiling them – and I put them in cold water which I then heat. For holidays, such as Thanksgiving, when I make a lot of boiled potatoes to mash for mashed potatoes, I’ll peel the potatoes several hours ahead of time, and let them sit in cold water until it is time to cook them. Probably many of the nutrients are probably lost . . sigh.

And, when I make baked potatoes, I pierce the potatoes with the point of a sharp knife prior to baking – to allow steam to escape and keep the potatoes from exploding –  rather than waiting until they removed from the oven.

37 thoughts on “1921 Tips for Cooking Potatoes

  1. I remember when restaurants began serving mashed potatoes with the skin included. Then, potato skins (loaded with other goodies) began to be offered. I thought it was a labor and cost saving device, but now I’m wondering if an increased awareness of the nutritional value of the skin might have been part of it. I can’t quite remember when my mother changed her practice, but we always peeled potatoes up to the 1960s. Then, the change took place, and she never peeled them again.

    1. When I was a child, sometimes the individual mashing the potatoes didn’t mash them very carefully, and when the potatoes were served, others in the family would complain about “lumpy” mashed potatoes. Today in restaurants, mashed potatoes with the skins and other goodies often contain small chunks of potato – and even though they are tasty – I still always think about the lumpy mashed potatoes of my childhood.

    1. That’s why I always put potatoes in water if I need to peel them ahead of the time. In addition to possible pesticide issues, I’ve heard that the greenish tinge that the outer layers some potatoes contain are not good for us, and that potatoes should be thickly peeled. It’s fascinating how the the procedures for preparing potatoes differ depending up the concerns of the cook.

  2. My mom used to peel her potatoes for boiling and started them in cold salted water, unless they were new potatoes from the garden, she didn’t peel those. I sometimes peel them if I want fluffy mashed potatoes, but otherwise not. I still start them in cold water because I think I’ve been told time and time again that putting them in boiling water causes the outside of the potatoes to overcook before the insides are done. Don’t know if that is true, but I do defer to my mom one this one! We also peeled potatoes and let them sit in cold water when we had a big meal and a lot of tasks to do (think Thanksgiving). We probably did lose nutrients because any soaking of a vegetable results in nutrient loss, but you have to weigh that minimum amount of loss with getting a giant meal prepped!

    1. Until I saw the information about cooking potatoes in the old home economics cookbook, I’d never give any thought to the proper way to cook boiled potatoes. Like you, I just did them the way the mother had prepared them. I think that you’re right that it’s not worth worrying about any potential minimal loss of nutrients that may occur from allowing them to sit in cold water when prepping a big meal.

  3. I cook my taters just as you do! I have been thinking of Thanksgiving and Christmas a lot lately : ) My Italian uncle insisted that mashed potatoes be served w/some type of cooked greens, stirred right in w/the potatoes, so picky eaters (like me) couldn’t get them out ; ) Good memories.

    1. Thanks for sharing the fun story. Somehow I think that stirring cooked greens into mashed potatoes won’t have worked with my children. I think that they would have just totally refused to eat them.

  4. I’ve always started my potatoes in cold water – I’m not so sure that the loss of nutrients is so severe to warrant waiting to cook them until the water is boiling. I remember peeling potatoes and having them turn an off color because I didn’t put them in water immediately after peeling. Those were some ugly mashed potatoes!

    1. Interesting – I never heard that before. There used to be such a huge difference between old and new potatoes. Today, it seems like the quality of old potatoes that I buy at the store isn’t nearly as poor as it once was. Apparently storage techniques have improved across the years.

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