7 Habits of Weight Loss

The Irish Potato

Description.—The potato, a plant of the order Solanaceae, is supposed to be indigenous to South America. Probably it was introduced into Europe by the Spaniards early in the sixteenth century, but cultivated only as a curiosity. To Sir Walter Raleigh, however, is usually given the credit of its introduction as a food, he having imported it from Virginia to Ireland in 1586, where its valuable nutritive qualities were first appreciated. The potato has so long constituted the staple article of diet in Ireland, that it has come to be commonly, though incorrectly, known as the Irish potato.

The edible portion of the plant is the tuber, a thick, fleshy mass or enlarged portion of an underground stem, having upon its surface a number of little buds, or "eyes," each capable of independent growth. The tuber is made up of little cells filled with starch granules, surrounded and permeated with a watery fluid containing a small percentage of the albuminous or nitrogenous elements. In cooking, heat coagulates the albumen within and between the cells, while the starch granules absorb the watery portion, swell, and distend the cells. The cohesion between these is also destroyed, and they easily separate. When these changes are complete, the potato becomes a loose, farinaceous mass, or "mealy." When, however, the liquid portion is not wholly absorbed, and the cells are but imperfectly separated, the potato appears waxen, watery, or soggy. In a mealy state the potato is easily digested; but when waxy or water-soaked, it is exceedingly trying to the digestive powers.

It is obvious, then, that the great desideratum in cooking the potato, is to promote the expansion and separation of its cells; in other words, to render it mealy. Young potatoes are always waxy, and consequently less wholesome than ripe ones. Potatoes which have been frozen and allowed to thaw quickly are much sweeter and more watery, because in thawing the starch changes into sugar. Frozen potatoes should be thawed in cold water and cooked at once, or kept frozen until ready for use.

Preparation and Cooking.—Always pare potatoes very thin. Much of the most nutritious part of the tuber lies next its outer covering; so care should be taken to waste as little as possible. Potatoes cooked with the skins on are undoubtedly better than those pared. The chief mineral element contained in the potato is potash, an important constituent of the blood. Potash salts are freely soluble in water, and when the skin is removed, there is nothing to prevent these salts from escaping into the water in which the potato is boiled. If the potato is cooked in its "jacket," the skin, which does not in general burst open until the potato is nearly done, serves to keep this valuable element largely inside the potato while cooking. For the same reason it is better not to pare potatoes and put them in water to soak over night, as many cooks are in the habit of doing, to have them in readiness for cooking for breakfast.

Potatoes to be pared should be first washed and dried. It is a good plan to wash quite a quantity at one time, to be used as needed. After paring, drop at once into cold water and rinse them thoroughly. It is a careless habit to allow pared potatoes to fall among the skins, as in this way they become stained, and appear black and discolored after cooking. Scrubbing with a vegetable brush is by far the best means for cleaning potatoes to be cooked with the skins on.

When boiled in their skins, the waste, according to Letheby, is about three per cent, while without them it is not less than fourteen per cent, or more than two ounces in every pound. Potatoes boiled without skins should be cooked very gently.

Steaming, roasting, and baking are much better methods for cooking potatoes than boiling, for reasons already given. Very old potatoes are best stewed or mashed. When withered or wilted, they are freshened by standing in cold water for an hour or so before cooking. If diseased or badly sprouted, potatoes are wholly unfit for food.

RECIPES.

Boiled Potatoes (in Jackets).—Choose potatoes of uniform size, free from specks. Wash and scrub them well with a coarse cloth or brush; dig out all eyes and rinse in cold water; cook in just enough water to prevent burning, till easily pierced with a fork, not till they have burst the skin and fallen in pieces. Drain thoroughly, take out the potatoes, and place them in the oven for five minutes, or place the kettle back on the range; remove the skins, and cover with a cloth to absorb all moisture, and let them steam three or four minutes. By either method they will be dry and mealy. In removing the skins, draw them off without cutting the potatoes.

Boiled Potatoes (without Skins).—Pare very thin, and wash clean. If not of an equal size, cut the larger potatoes in two. Cook in only sufficient water to prevent burning until a fork will easily pierce their center; drain thoroughly, place the kettle back on the range, cover with a cloth to absorb the moisture, and let them dry four or five minutes. Shake the kettle several times while they are drying, to make them floury.

Steamed Potatoes.—Potatoes may be steamed either with or without the skin. Only mature potatoes can be steamed. Prepare as for boiling; place in a steamer, over boiling water, and steam until tender. If water is needed to replenish, let it always be boiling hot, and not allow the potatoes to stop steaming, or they will be watery. When done, uncover, remove the potatoes to the oven, and let them dry a few minutes. If peeled before steaming, shake the steamer occasionally, to make them floury.

Roasted Potatoes.—Potatoes are much more rich and mealy roasted than cooked in any other way. Wash them very carefully, dry with a cloth, and wrap in tissue paper; bury in ashes not too hot, then cover with coals and roast until tender. The coals will need renewing occasionally, unless the roasting is done very close to the main fire.

Baked Potatoes.—Choose large, smooth potatoes as near the same size as possible; wash and scrub with a brush until perfectly clean; dry with a cloth, and bake in a moderately hot oven until a fork will easily pierce them, or until they yield to pressure between the fingers. They are better turned about occasionally. In a slow oven the skins become hardened and thickened, and much of the most nutritious portion is wasted. When done, press each one till it bursts slightly, as that will allow the steam to escape, and prevent the potatoes from becoming soggy. They should be served at once, in a folded napkin placed in a hot dish. Cold baked potatoes may be warmed over by rebaking, if of good quality and not overdone the first time.

Stuffed Potato.—Prepare and bake large potatoes of equal size, as directed in the preceding recipe. When done, cut them evenly three fourths of an inch from the end, and scrape out the inside, taking care not to break the skins. Season the potato with salt and a little thick sweet cream, being careful not to have it too moist, and beat thoroughly with a fork until light; refill the skins with the seasoned potato, fit the broken portions together, and reheat in the oven. When hot throughout, wrap the potatoes in squares of white tissue paper fringed at both ends. Twist the ends of the paper lightly together above the fringe, and stand the potatoes in a vegetable dish with the cut end uppermost. When served, the potatoes are held in the hand, one end of the paper untwisted, the top of the potato removed, and the contents eaten with a fork or spoon.

Stuffed Potatoes No. 2.—Prepare large, smooth potatoes, bake until tender, and cut them in halves; scrape out the inside carefully, so as not to break the skins; mash smoothly, mix thoroughly with one third freshly prepared cottage cheese; season with nice sweet cream, and salt if desired. Fill the shells with the mixture, place cut side uppermost, in a pudding dish, and brown in the oven.

Mashed Potatoes.—Peel and slice potatoes enough to make two quarts; put into boiling water and cook until perfectly tender, but not much broken; drain, add salt to taste; turn into a hot earthen dish, and set in the oven for a few moments to dry. Break up the potatoes with a silver fork; add nearly a cup of cream, and beat hard at least five minutes till light and creamy; serve at once, or they will become heavy. If preferred, the potatoes may be rubbed through a hot sieve into a hot plate, or mashed with a potato beetle, but they are less light and flaky when mashed with a beetle. If cream for seasoning is not obtainable, a well-beaten egg makes a very good substitute. Use in the proportion of one egg to about five potatoes. For mashed potatoes, if all utensils and ingredients are first heated, the result will be much better.

New Potatoes.—When potatoes are young and freshly gathered, the skins are easiest removed by taking each one in a coarse cloth and rubbing it; a little coarse salt used in the cloth will be found serviceable for this purpose. If almost ripe, scrape with a blunt knife, wash very clean, and rinse in cold water. Boiling is the best method of cooking; new potatoes are not good steamed. Use only sufficient water to cover, and boil till tender. Drain thoroughly, cover closely with a clean cloth, and dry before serving.

Cracked Potatoes.—Prepare and boil new potatoes as in the preceding recipe, and when ready to serve, crack each by pressing lightly upon it with the back of a spoon, lay them in a hot dish, salt to taste, and pour over them a cup of hot thin cream or rich milk.

Creamed Potatoes.—Take rather small, new potatoes and wash well; rub off all the skins; cut in halves, or if quite large, quarter them. Put a pint of divided potatoes into a broad-bottomed, shallow saucepan; pour over them a cup of thin sweet cream, add salt if desired; heat just to the boiling point, then allow them to simmer gently till perfectly tender, tossing them occasionally in the stewpan to prevent their burning on the bottom. Serve hot.

Scalloped Potatoes.—Pare the potatoes and slice thin; put them in layers in an earthen pudding dish, dredge each layer lightly with flour, and salt, and pour over all enough good, rich milk to cover well. Cover, and bake rather slowly till tender, removing the cover just long enough before the potatoes are done, to brown nicely. If preferred, a little less milk may be used, and a cup of thin cream added when the potatoes are nearly done.

Stewed Potato.—Pare the potatoes and slice rather thin. Put into boiling water, and cook until nearly tender, but not broken. Have some rich milk boiling in the inner dish of a double boiler, add to it a little salt, then stir in for each pint of milk a heaping teaspoonful of corn starch or rice flour, rubbed smooth in a little cold milk. Stir until it thickens. Drain the potatoes, turn them into the hot sauce, put the dish in the outer boiler, and cook for a half hour or longer. Cold boiled potatoes may be sliced and used in the same way. Cold baked potatoes sliced and stewed thus for an hour or more, make a particularly appetizing dish.

Potatoes Stewed with Celery.—Pare and slice the potatoes, and put them into a stewpan with two or three tablespoonfuls of minced celery. Use only the white part of the celery and mince it finely. Cover the whole with milk sufficient to cook and prevent burning, and stew until tender. Season with cream and salt.

Potato Snowballs.—Cut largo potatoes into quarters; if small, leave them undivided; boil in just enough water to cover. When tender, drain and dry in the usual way. Take up two or three pieces at a time in a strong, clean cloth, and press them compactly together in the shape of balls. Serve in a folded napkin on a hot dish.

Potato Cakes.—Make nicely seasoned, cold mashed potato into small round cakes about one half an inch thick. Put them on a baking tin, brush them over with sweet cream, and bake in a hot oven till golden brown.

Potato Cakes with Egg.—Bake nice potatoes till perfectly tender; peel, mash thoroughly, and to each pint allow the yolks of two eggs which have been boiled until mealy, then rubbed perfectly smooth through a fine wire sieve, and one half cup of rich milk. Add salt to taste, mix all well together, form the potato into small cakes, place them on oiled tins, and brown ten or fifteen minutes in the oven.

Potato Puff.—Mix a pint of mashed potato (cold is just as good if free from lumps) with a half cup of cream and the well-beaten yolk of an egg; salt to taste and beat till smooth; lastly, stir in the white of the egg beaten to a stiff froth. Pile up in a rocky form on a bright tin dish, and bake in a quick oven until heated throughout and lightly browned. Serve at once.

Browned Potatoes.—Slice cold potatoes evenly, place them on an oiled tin, and brown in a very quick oven; or slice lengthwise and lay on a wire broiler or bread-toaster, and brown over hot coals. Sprinkle with a little salt if desired, and serve hot with sweet cream as dressing.

Ornamental Potatoes.—No vegetable can be made palatable in so many ways as the potato, and few can be arranged in such pretty shapes. Mashed potatoes made moist with cream, can easily be made into cones, pyramids, or mounds. Cold mashed potatoes may be cut into many fancy shapes with a cookie-cutter, wet with a little cold water, and browned in the oven.

Mounds of potatoes are very pretty smoothed and strewn with well-cooked vermicelli broken into small bits, and then lightly browned in the oven.

Scoring the top of a dish of mashed potato deeply in triangles, stars, and crosses, with the back of a carving knife, and then browning lightly, gives a very pretty effect.

Broiled Potato.—Mashed potatoes, if packed firmly while warm into a sheet-iron bread tin which has been dipped in cold water, may be cut into slices when cold, brushed with cream, and browned on a broiler over hot coals.

Warmed-over Potatoes.—Cut cold boiled potatoes into very thin slices; heat a little cream to boiling in a saucepan; add the potato, season lightly with salt if desired, and cook until the cream is absorbed, stirring occasionally so as to prevent scorching or breaking the slices.

Vegetable Hash.—With one quart finely sliced potato, chop one carrot, one red beet, one white turnip, all boiled, also one or two stalks of celery. Put all together in a stewpan, cover closely, and set in the oven; when hot, pour over them a cup of boiling cream, stir well together, and serve hot.

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