Potatoes without a-peel?
Mashed Potatoes
© Frank Ford, 2001; Photos by FF

I have no direct memory of my uncle Preston, who died in Europe during the last days of World War II. But every Thanksgiving my grandmother would remind me what a world-class potato masher he was, as she set me on that task, probably to keep me from running around the house with my brother.

Now, I'll never expected to become a real culinary artist like my grandmother, although she did set me that goal, "You can learn to make mashed potatoes as good as your Uncle Preston's." She always said the key to his success was that he used a fork to finish them off, and never an electric mixer, because that would make them gummy. Not too long ago, I read a little piece in the food section of the daily paper giving corroborating evidence, saying that an electric mixer breaks down the cellulose structure and releases gluten, or something like that. Speaking of gluten, I have a neighbor whose mashed potatoes could be used to adhere classical guitar bridges. But enough of all that, let's get cooking.

OK I've got my potato peeler all
tuned up and I'm ready for the big time!

There are lots of kinds of potatoes around, so you have to watch out for the right ones, which are usually sold as baking potatoes. Nothing like a good Idaho russet! I think it's important not to cut the pieces too small.

This is a pretty big pot, and about a dozen potatoes. Seems I get better results with a nice big batch, and we like leftovers.

I'm making mashed potatoes, not MUSHED potatoes, so I want to be VERY careful not to overcook them. I drag one piece up the side of the pot and try squishing it with a fork. The second I can get one to crumble all the way through, I yank the pot off the stove.

And immediately dump the contents into a colander. I think it's important to stop the cooking, and to get the potatoes dried off.

For home consumption of small batches, I'll often use Uncle Preston's old potato masher, but for company I get out a potato ricer. I recently found this new cheap ricer that has extra big holes, so the work goes fast and easy.

While they're still hot, I'll stir in some butter (or margarine) and a bit of milk. Gotta go easy on the milk, to avoid making this into glue at the last stage. I like to use just enough to avoid a crumbly look.

And, here's the last minute secret ingredient that make's everything right. If the potatoes have a slightly bitter taste, I'll make an adjustment with a tiny bit of sugar. It's amazing what that can do! I don't use enough to be noticeable, of course.

Ah, this picture is making me hungry right now. The mashed potatoes land on the plate looking like a fluffy cloud, not like a lump of plaster. Sure, it takes a bit of care, but making the best mashed potatoes takes no more time than the worst.

Really good mashed potatoes like these will stand a day or two in the refrigerator, and come out quite passable as leftovers.

Personally, I think Grandma would have to admit that I rose to the challenge,
but it took me until a couple of decades after her departure to take it seriously.

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Lately, I've met a number of folks who don't know what a potato ricer is. Suffice it to say, that if you don't have one, you should get one. It's fun to play with, and it turns a boiled russet into something that looks a lot like steamed rice.

Using a potato ricer assures me of a completely lump-free product, so I don't have to work up a sweat as Uncle Preston did. (He was a water polo star in high school, so I suspect he enjoyed that sort of thing.)