One of the latest trends in food is the return to "Mama" foods or comfort foods, good old delicious foods that we grew up with, caringly prepared by our mothers. Of these, the potato instantly comes to mind, and there are a million and one ways it can be served. Be it steamed, baked, fried, hashed or mashed, there are likewise as many gadgets for every method of cooking this beloved vegetable.
The two potato gadgets featured today aren't exactly new, but they make it easier to prepare two favorite standbys--mashed potatoes and French fries. Like so many new tools in the culinary marketplace, these utensils are improved versions of old ones, for which we have the original inventors to thank.
Older potato cooks will likely recognize My Mother's Potato Masher, a replica of an efficient utensil that goes back more than 100 years. For bringing it back to the kitchen cabinet, appreciative homemakers have been thanking Virginia Nicoll of Meredith, N.H., who, after re-creating her grandmother's prized potato masher, has been selling it by mail order all over the country.
The gadget is composed of a high-carbon steel mashing plate that's supported to its birch handle with brass pins. "It's an authentic design copied exactly from a potato masher owned by my grandmother, Alice Fleming, who purchased it from a peddler traveling in his horse-drawn wagon in rural Pennsylvania back in the late 1800s," Nicoll said.
No one likes gummy potatoes, which is caused by overhandling the tuber, and this gadget always seems to treat the potatoes gently but thoroughly. Aside from potatoes, the masher works well with mashing avocados for guacamole, which is Nicoll's favorite. Other uses for the tool are for mashing applesauce, bananas, cottage cheese, strawberries for shortcake, deviled eggs, turnips and for making cracker crumbs. For other ideas, refer to the small pamphlet of family recipes that comes with the masher.
Like fine cutlery that's made of carbon steel, the mashing plate is subject to some rusting, so Nicoll recommends an occasional light rubbing of the plate with salad oil to deter oxidation. The masher should never be washed in the dishwasher, but instead should be done by hand in mild warm sudsy water and thoroughly dried after each use.
The second potato gadget has also been around for years but could be a real find for French-fry lovers who want to cut their own fresh potatoes. It's the lever-type French-fry cutter with a press that pushes a whole potato through a sharp grid when the lever is pulled down.
There are quite a few brands and types in the market, but one that works quite efficiently is Chef Major stainless steel cutter from J and F Imports. According to Fred Dardashti, president of J and F, potatoes are cut more quickly in this newly improved version of the tool. It's more compact, easier to pull down, and the stainless steel grid blades are sharp enough to cut through the potato. I find with other French-fry cutters that it's easier to just use a sharp knife than to fumble through several motions with the lever, but Chef Major does the trick quite simply.
The potato masher is available by mail order. Write to My Mother's Potato Masher, Box 300, RFD 1, Meredith, N.H. 03253 and send $8.95 plus $2 for postage and handling.
Chef Major French Fry Cutter has a suggested retail price of $6 and is available at Gelson's and Mayfair Markets and some specialty cookware stores such as Casual Gourmet.