Central New York Salt Taters

On a Facebook post, one of my South Carolina nieces showed a basket of freshly dug new potatoes and it put me in mind of a favorite dish we used to make at home: Salt Potatoes. My family is from upstate New York where these were invented in the 1800’s and it’s now considered a regional dish.

Grandfather Dickinson grew potatoes as his major cash crop and according to my mom and aunts, they had potatoes every single day–as standard as having white bread with a meal. In the vicinity, around Onondaga Lake,  an ancient inland sea produced areas of salt deposits (Halite) and later glacial action and erosion formed aquifers that made connection with the salt layers. Mention was made of the briny waters by Jesuits in the 1650’s.Commercial production began in the 18th century and  by the 19th century, the Syracuse salt industry would provide the majority of salt used in the United States.

Back to potatoes…Salt miners, many of them Irish, would bring small, ugly substandard potatoes with them for the daily lunch and just boil them in the local salt brine. The “Salt Potato” eventually became a big Central NY hit and eventually a local entrepreneur started serving them at clambakes and barbecues and capitalized on packaging and selling them.

From Dave Wheeler’s blog post What’s The Big Deal With Syracuse Salt Potatoes?

How exactly does it get it’s name? As the potatoes cook, the salty water forms a crust on the skin and seals the potatoes so they never taste waterlogged. When you make salt potatoes, you need salt of course, and [Ed:bite sized, size B, Grade US No. 2] “young” white potatoes. These are the super small potatoes you see in stores. The cooking water contains salt in a ratio of one cup of salt to six cups of water. [Ed: One pound of salt per 4 lbs potatoes] This honestly gives Syracuse Salt Potatoes their unique flavor, texture, and of course the great taste.

The resulting potatoes are creamy, as the starch in the potatoes cooks more completely due to the higher boiling temperature of the extra-salty water. (WIcki)

Salt potatoes are served with melted butter, plain or herbed.

So, if you are growing potatoes this year or can procure some of these small white taters, you owe it to yourself to try this at least once.