There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn’t ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows! But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone–too nervous to bear witnesses–to take the pudding up, and bring it in.
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, 1843
Goose, stuffing, applesauce and mashed potatoes. The Cratchitt’s Christmas dinner sounds a lot like what many of us will be enjoying this Christmas, but in Jane Austen’s day, only twenty or thirty years before the writing of A Christmas Carol potatoes were a fairly new offering on the dinner table. One that was often eyed with suspicion more than anything else.
Though potatoes were brought to Spain from South America in the 1500’s, it would take almost 300 more years before they were adopted with any alacrity by the rest of Europe. Eventually, they were recognized to contain almost every necessary vitamin for survival. The idea that one acre of potatoes could support a family of 10 was especially well received in Ireland. In 1780 widespread cultivation of white (versus sweet) potatoes began in Ireland, eventually reaching Britain and beyond. The population explosion in Ireland in the early 1800’s owes itself to this new food source, and when, in the 1840’s a blight wiped out the entire crop, there was widespread famine across the country, bringing to life a massive exodus of Irish immigrants to the United States.
We know that Jane Austen was familiar with potatoes and probably enjoyed them frequently, though it is left to our imaginations to wonder if the dish enjoyed by Dr. Grant in the Mansfield Parsonage was baked, boiled, roasted or mashed. It is curious to note that what was once served as a delicate and rare dish became, in a few decades time associated with a poor man’s dish and therefore fit for the Cratchitt’s table.
Potatoes: to every lb. of mashed potatoes allow 1 oz. of butter,
2 tablespoonfuls of milk, salt to taste.
Boil the potatoes in their skins; when done, drain them, and let them get thoroughly dry by the side of the fire; then peel them, and, as they are peeled, put them into a clean saucepan, and with a large fork beat them to a light paste; add butter, milk, and salt in the above proportion, and stir all the ingredients well over the fire. When thoroughly hot, dish them lightly, and draw the fork backwards over the potatoes to make the surface rough, and serve. When dressed in this manner, they may be browned at the top with a salamander, or before the fire. Some cooks press the potatoes into moulds, then turn them out, and brown them in the oven: this is a pretty mode of serving, but it makes them heavy. In whatever way they are sent to table, care must be taken to have them quite free from lumps.
Isabella Beeton Book of Household Management, 1859
Perfect Mashed Potatoes
- 1 1/2 lbs potatoes, peeled and quartered
(Yukon Gold are best)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 Tbsp heavy cream
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 1 Tbsp milk
- Salt and Pepper
- A potato masher
Put potatoes into a saucepan. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add water until potatoes are covered. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, 15-20 minutes, or until done (a fork can easily be poked through them.)
Warm cream and melt butter together, either in microwave or in a pan on the stove. Drain water from potatoes. Put hot potatoes into a bowl. Add cream and melted butter. Use potato masher to mash potatoes until well mashed. Use a strong spoon to beat further, adding milk to achieve the consistency you desire. (Do not over-beat or your potatoes will get gluey.) Salt and pepper to taste.
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