Whether it’s next to the Yankee pot roast in a diner, between the turkey and cranberry sauce on the Thanksgiving table, or (let’s face it) in a bowl on their own, as a country we sure do love mashed potatoes…and as New Englanders, we know some of the nation’s best potatoes come from Maine. In fact, the potato is still northern Maine’s primary agricultural product. In the 1940’s the state was the top potato producer in the nation, but by the mid-1990’s it had fallen to the eighth. Still, Maine is rightly proud of its potato-heritage — especially in Aroostook county, where the annual Maine Potato Blossom Festival is still held each July when the spuds are in bloom.
While recipes for mashed potatoes date back to the mid-1700’s, potatoes were a “new world” food that gained widespread popularity in Europe for being affordable as well as easy to grow, prepare, and eat.
Homemade mashed potatoes are simple to make, but loaded (pun intended) with options. Before the water even boils, you’ll want to choose the right kind of potato for the kind of mashed potatoes you want to make. Waxy potatoes like Yukon Gold are high in moisture and low in starch, so they do a better job holding their shape when cooked. Alternatively, floury potatoes like Russetts are high in starch and low in moisture and give you a fluffy, dry texture.
After cutting and boiling (skins on or off to your preference), the potatoes are boiled until tender, then combined with butter and milk or cream before mashing. Here I’ve chosen to go with Yukon Gold.
The method of mashing is also a matter of preference. While handheld mashers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, my favorites are the vintage wooden-handled mashers with wavy metal fingers. They do a good job breaking down the potatoes, but leave behind plenty of pieces for the lumpy mashed potato lovers to bite into.
If you prefer a smoother mashed potato, there’s always the handheld electric mixer for an airy, whippped finish, but a ricer will give you a light mashed potato texture without too much extra air.
Once the potatoes are mashed to your satisfaction, season them to taste with salt, pepper, and (what the heck?) some extra butter before serving. If you like you can add in a number of additions, like chopped bacon, chives, cheese, or roasted garlic. Then, if there are any left over, mashed potatoes are born anew stuffed into pierogi, mixed with flaked fish and fried in codfish cakes, or baked until buttery and crisp on top of shepherd’s pie.
When it comes to mashed potatoes, the possibilities are endless. Hungry yet?