They’re a staple food. Almost everywhere you go, every restaurant, grocery store, every kitchen of every friend you have, you’re nearly guaranteed to find some of these in a pantry or a cupboard somewhere. You can get them fried, baked, mashed, cubed, as wedges, or even throw chunks of it into a soup or stew. They absorb the flavors you give them amazingly well, yet still can have a flavor all of their own, and hundreds, if not thousands of dishes, depend on this tuber. You’ve probably guessed what it is by now, haven’t you? Of course, I’m talking about potatoes!
Incredibly versatile, although a little starchy, potatoes are an almost inescapable part of our diets. The first ever time potatoes were cultivated can be traced all the way back to anywhere between 8,000 and 5,000 B.C. The Inca tribe, native to the region, were some of the first peoples we’ve discovered to have grown and domesticated potatoes in a comparable way to how we do today. For the Inca, these potatoes provided vital sustenance for their tribespeople, and, being relatively easy to grow in large numbers, became a staple food of the Inca for a long time before Europeans found their way to the Americas. That’s right, the food that became so popular throughout Europe that the “Potato Famines” later caused many Irish peoples to starve or move to the Americas, wasn’t even known outside of the Americas until Spanish Conquistadors first made contact with the Inca tribe.
In fact, Potatoes became so popular not only in Europe, but throughout the entire world, that almost every single culinary culture on the planet includes potatoes in some way. From curries in India, to vodka in Russia, and Shepherd’s Pie in England, not even mentioning the countless dishes throughout the Middle East, Africa, and the rest of Asia. According to the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, the average American consumes just over 110 pounds of potatoes every year, and the average European doubles that! So, with such a versatile, storied, and undeniably popular food that will inevitably find its way into many of your dishes, it’s important to have the right tools at your disposal to properly prepare them. In the spirit of this, we’re going to be examining a few different tools you can use for nearly any dish you’ll be making! We’ll be going through potato chip slicers, slicers specific for making your potatoes into amazing French fries, ribbon slicers, and in sticking with our historical theme, take a look at some vintage slicers used for potatoes as well! So, in addition to making sure you’re going to be amazing at your next trivia night, you’ll also be prepared for your next dinner! Let’s get started.
One of the most widespread uses of potatoes, everyone is familiar with potato chips. They’re so widespread and popular that Frito Lay, one of the most popular producers of potato chips in the world, cooks over one million pounds of potatoes in its factories every single day. And the vast majority of those potatoes will only have been at the factory for six to eight hours before being fried, packaged, and shipped off to one of 79 different countries. Talk about efficient! But, the downside to these pre-cooked chips, even though they’re delicious themselves, are that they’re often higher in sodium and trans-fats than you might be comfortable with. Thankfully, it’s easy to make them yourself!
Now, you could just use a knife and chop each chip off the potato individually, but if you do, you’ll often end up with uneven chips that are different thicknesses, which will cause some to take a longer time to cook than others, and if they’re too thick, they won’t really crisp at all. So, the best option you have is to use a tool specifically made for cutting up chips at home, and thankfully, there’s plenty of them around to help you!
One of them worth mentioning, like many of the other tools you’ll find in this article, doesn’t only work with potatoes, but also with many other vegetables you could want sliced! Not only sweet potatoes – which make delicious chips on their own as well – but also things like onions, bell peppers, and even a few fruits like mangoes and apples, if you take out the cores and pits first!
That tool is the OXO Good Grips Adjustable HandHeld Mandoline Slicer. This Mandoline slicer is great for making your chips evenly every time, and with three different settings to control exactly how thickly it cuts your potatoes, not only will you be able to turn a whole potato into ready-to-fry chips in the blink of an eye, you’ll also be satisfied with the result every time! This slicer comes in a durable, BPA-free and food-safe plastic, and is incredibly simple to use. Cut a little bit off of both ends of the potato so the ends are flat, then cut it in half to make it easier to work with. Adjust the blades on the board so that you can get your desired thickness, and place one of the halves between the plastic board with the blades, and use the plastic hand piece, the part you have to grab and press on the top of the potato with, to move it along the blades. Move it in slow, yet firm strokes, preferably directly over something like a plate, cutting board, or bowl to make it easier to collect all the chips when you’re ready to fry everything up. When you’re done, if you want more, slice up the other half of your potato the same way, and then either bake them in an oven, or, if you’re feeling traditional, get a deep-fryer going, or just simply heat up a pot of vegetable oil (be VERY careful!) and deep-fry them! Take them out when they’re suitably crispy, get rid of the excess oil by letting them rest between some paper towels for a few minutes, then move them onto a plate, season them as desired, and enjoy your fresh, homemade potato chips!
Name almost any burger restaurant you can think of. McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, even the more local, non-franchise burger joints you might have in your area. There’s always one thing people are always comparing about them, and it isn’t their burgers – it’s their fries. The topic of which fast food restaurant has the best fries on the market has been hotly debated ever since fast food entered the mainstream, and it is certainly not stopping anytime soon. Fries, “French Fries” or “Freedom Fries” as they’re still known in some particularly patriotic parts of America, are so popular that they make up significant portions of revenue for the burger joints that sell them today.
These delicious, fried potato sticks first gained American attention when none other than Thomas Jefferson encountered these delightful treats while he was posted as the Ambassador to France under Washington, when the United States was still fighting for recognition among the larger world powers at the time. While in Paris, he discovered Fries, had his chef take cooking lessons from the Chefs of French Aristocrats, and brought the recipe back with him. People took to calling them “French Fries”, and the name stuck.
The name “Freedom Fries”, however, is much more recent. In 2003, following the tragedy at the world trade center two years earlier, the United States government proposed an invasion of Iraq. The government of France, however, refused to support the measure, and in response, Bob Ney, The Chairman of the Committee on House Administration at the time, took it upon himself to change the name “French Fries” to “Freedom Fries” on all the cafeteria menus in the House of Congress. Some restaurant owners saw this and decided to follow suit, starting the trend around the country. Some other items, most notably French’s brand mustards, were also asked to change names to support this effort, but at least in French’s case, they declined. As support began to waver for the Iraq war, many of these restaurant owners began to quietly change their menus back to the way they were before, and today, you can only find “Freedom Fries” in local restaurants that are few and far between. Maybe they just like the way the name sounds.
No matter what you call them, however, we can all agree that we still love them just the same. And if you’re not in the mood to go out and buy some for yourself, or you want to do something more creative than you can commonly get from most restaurants, I’m very happy to saw I have an incredibly simple, easy, and quick tool for you!
That tool is the Westmark Multipurpose French Fry Cutter! It simply cannot get much easier than this machine. As long as your potato is the right size, there’s no need to cut it before hand or anything like that. This machine comes with three different blades you can install in the front of the machine to determine how thick your fries will be. Once you’ve chosen your thickness and installed the right part, all you need to do is place your potato in the chamber behind the blades, face your tool over a bowl or plate to catch the fries, grab the handle, and crank it as hard as you can! It may take a bit of effort at first to get it started, but once the blades start cutting though that potato, it’ll be easy to finish it off. This machine is completely manual, meaning there’s no plugs or wires to worry about, and you can easily store it anywhere! This tool makes it easy to quickly make amazing fries in seconds – Just place and pull!
Although, if the idea of using some elbow grease doesn’t appeal to you, you may want to take a look in your Food Processor’s box, if you have one. Many food processors have a spinning blade attachment made specifically for slicing French fries. These usually sit at the top of the bowl, and require you to feed potatoes through the feeder tube at the top to slice them into amazing fries. It’s certainly less physically demanding than the other method, if you have a food processor, the attachment for it, and don’t mind dragging them both out.
Now, if you’re anything like me, you had no idea that “Potato Ribbons” were actually a dish. A real, apparently quite delicious, dish. I thought I knew quite a bit about potatoes, but I’m always learning. These ribbons are made by spiralizing your potatoes, and then – big surprise here – deep-frying them. If you do it correctly, the spirals should keep their shape while you’re frying them and turn out to be picturesque, golden spirals on your plate. If you’re looking for a healthier alternative to deep-frying for this particular dish, you may be out of luck, because the shape of the spiral would make it very difficult to cook in an oven without burning certain parts of it. Meaning, the only way this could really cook evenly, without one side burning to a crisp in the process, is probably to deep-fry it. But, feel free to try to prove me wrong and find a method that is right for you!
Now, the tool that will help you with making this aesthetically pleasing dish is theSpiralizer, FDA Approved 6-Blade Spiral Vegetable Slicer by HOLUCK. This machine, like the title says, is FDA approved for use with food, and is made of lightweight, BPA-free plastics and stainless steel blades. The entire machine is a little large, honestly, but it does its job amazingly well. It doesn’t only work for regular potatoes, but also sweet potatoes, carrots, zucchinis, even apples and cucumbers! This model comes with six different blades, two of which are to alter the distance between you spirals, as well as some straight-blades to cut them into regular, straight ribbons! Luckily, this machine seems to be as versatile as some of the foods you’ll be using it on.
It’s also incredibly easy to use. Once you’ve set up the machine on your counter, it’s as simple as ensuring your food will fit in the chamber, placing it in correctly, ensuring the blades are installed properly, and then cranking the handle at the back of the machine to produce fantastic, spiralized or straight pieces of potato ready to be fried! It runs incredibly smoothly, and all the pieces you get from your food go into one, easy to access area, where you can funnel them right into a waiting bowl or plate!
Not to mention, this particular product comes with a lifetime warranty from Holuck! So, if anything breaks, you don’t need to worry about buying a new one or checking your receipt to see how long your warranty is. Contact the company, send it back, and get a brand new one after! I’ve always been a huge fan of buy-it-for-life products, and if you are too, the lifetime warranty should have you pretty excited! The company even allows you to ask for replacements if individual parts of your machine break down or stop working, meaning that if your handle breaks when you’re cranking the machine, you don’t need to replace the whole thing, just send away from a new handle! Incredibly easy and efficient. If you want to make some potato ribbons, this machine will be more than enough for you.
In keeping with our theme of history today, I thought it would be interested to not only go back in time to examine some history around potatoes and how they were utilized, but also to take a look at the tool that were used with them, and see if you could even get your hands on an old-fashioned one yourself!
Today, potatoes are so vital to our diets that they’re actually the world’s fourth most cultivated crop, following behind rice, wheat, and corn. Not only that, but the largest producer of potatoes on the market right now may also surprise you: it’s none other than China. The United States is ranked fourth in overall potato production worldwide.
The reason potatoes are so commonly associated with Ireland, and why the Potato Famines hit the population of Ireland so hard – killing millions and displacing more – is because of a man named Sir Walter Raleigh. History buffs may be familiar with him, but the gist of it is that he was a British Lord who first brought the potato to Ireland in 1589, creating a farm of over 40,000 acres dedicated solely to that one crop. While the popularity of the potato grew quickly in Ireland with Raleigh’s help, it took almost another four decades before they would reach the mainstream food market in the rest of Europe.
What caused potatoes to suddenly gain moment four decades later came about during tough planting seasons for farmers. They were having trouble with more traditional staple foods, such as wheat and oats, and thus tried the potato instead. They found it much easier to cultivate than their other crops, and it quickly became common knowledge that, since potatoes contain many of the vitamins needed for survival, it only took approximately one acre of potato cultivation to sustain ten people. With numbers like that, it’s no wonder why the lower and middle classes of not only Ireland, but much of Europe grew to rely on potatoes for much of their food sources. They were easy to grow, relatively cheap, plentiful, and nutritious.
During these times of plenty, the Irish used many of the tools to prepare their potatoes that you might recognize today! Many of them simply used knives to chop them up, or boiled them in water, but there’s also evidence of some people at the time using something that many people today would think resembles a cheese grater. They would use this to grate their potatoes (as well as other foods) to fry them into a hash, or to make them easier to mash. And for the mashing, they used tools that look familiar to us to.
A more modern iteration of one of these tools is the OXO Good Grips Swivel Peeler! Many people at the time, including the Irish, used smaller, finer knives in order to slice their potatoes into ribbon-like strips, or to remove the skin from them to make a smoother end-product. Luckily, we live in a time where even very simple products can save you from doing that much work! This simple, yet sleek and ergonomic peeler fits well in your hand, and always cuts clean and effortlessly. No matter if you’re using it to get the skin away from the potato or if you’re cutting it into long, thin ribbons to bake or fry up, this peeler can definitely do the job you’re looking for.
It was only plentiful for a time, anyhow. In the 1840’s, a crop disease known as the Potato Blight swept through Europe. Countries lost almost all of their potato crops, but many were able to weather the loss of this food because they still had other staple crops to fall back on, such as the wheat and oats we mentioned earlier.
Ireland, however, was extremely reliant of the potato as a food source. When the Potato Blight reached Ireland, the main food source for almost the entire population disappeared overnight. This, coupled with the fact that the British government at the time refused to send food to the starving peoples, and blocked ships from the Americas trying to deliver much-needed sustenance, lead to the deaths of over a million Irish peoples, and lead to many more emigrating to the Americas in search of more food and a better life.
And that is why even the things we take for granted the most in our lives, from the tools we use all the way down to the ingredients we use in are cooking, are all incredibly interesting! They all have a long, detailed history that we can learn from, if not at least be prepared to whip out some facts next time you’re cooking with some friends. No matter what you make, what you call it, or how you make it, happy cooking!