Harriet Beecher Stowe Gets a Lesson in Boiled Potatoes

In 1865, one Post columnist took issue with the way Harriet Beecher Stowe boiled potatoes.


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Sure, Harriet Beecher Stowe was an abolitionist and a women’s rights advocate. But did the prolific author who wrote one of the best-selling books of the 19th century know how to boil a potato? According to 1865 Post columnist Madeline, it was a hot debate.

Boiling Potatoes

Originally published in The Saturday Evening Post, December 2, 1865

The lady authoress of Uncle Tom, and diverse other popular publications, has been writing a homily on cooking potatoes. I should like to know if Mrs. Stowe does really boil potatoes herself? I do; and I have long since known better than to pare my potatoes raw and then dowse them naked into water red hot — boiling at 290 horse-power. That is one way to boil potatoes certainly, but not the proper one by a very long way. Philosophy, common sense, and a month or two of practical experience over the dinner pot, teach us a great deal better than that.

My dear madam, don’t you know that about six-tenths of all the starch that a potato affords, is deposited so near the surface, that however carefully we may pare the tubers in a raw state, we are sure to throw away the greater portion of that very material that we eat potatoes for? Then, if we toss our potatoes into boiling water, unprotected by their overcoats, we have set in a second, and hopelessly incorporated with the mass, that semi-volatile principle which gives the ill-cooked potato its slightly acrid something insipid, and always objectionable flavor.

Any thoroughly potato-bred Irish woman would as soon think of committing regicide, as boiling her potatoes undressed in the manner recommended by our literary lady cook. And there are no better potatoes, or potato cooks, anywhere in this world than there are in Ireland.

I tell you, fellow-housekeepers everywhere, that the correct way to cook a potato in any country, provided boiling is the determination, is to wash it clean firstly let it lie in clean, cold water 2 hours — 10 is all the better — place it in cold water in the pot, without paring, boil moderately until the test-fork goes smoothly through the potato without encountering a mite of core. Then drain off the water, set the pot over the fire, uncovered, for five minutes, after which whip off Mr. Potato’s jacket in a hurry, and send him to the table in a close cover, pip- ing hot-or if you are not over-fashionable and fastidious, it is preferable to serve “murphy” in his coat.

Please follow this formula a few times, and if you shall find it a pernicious practice, you shall be at liberty to consider Madeline as competent to write a readable romance, as she is to cook a potato.

Read the original recipe from December 2, 1865.

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