Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without them

The humble potato—ubiquitous, versatile, loved—is eaten in many ways. Boiled, baked, and roasted. Made into breads, pancakes, and deep fried. The best way to eat potatoes, though, is mashed, and the best time to eat mashed potatoes is during Thanksgiving.

The origin of mashed potatoes dates back to the Mayans in Central America. Europeans exploring the New World in the 1500s noted that the Mayans preferred to eat their potatoes mashed. Out of all the Indigenous people who were living and thriving in the New World, the Mayans were the only ones who ate their potatoes that way. Explorers took potatoes back to the old world around 1565. Due to easy cultivation and proliferation in Ireland and Spain, they became a favourite of the lower class because they were affordable and filling. The first verifiable recipe for mashed potatoes comes from the book The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse published in 1747, although it’s believed the recipe became popular in the 1600s. The recipe itself remains virtually unchanged today.

Mashed potatoes are simple and comforting. | Pixabay

“Boil your potatoes, peel them, put them into a saucepan, and mash them well. To two pounds of potatoes, put a pint of milk, a little salt, stir them well together, [and] take care they don’t stick to the bottom. Then take a quarter of a pound of butter, stir [it] in, and serve it up.”

The above recipe is nearly step-by-step the recipe my grandmothers used, right down to the ample amount of butter. (My grandmothers did not skimp in their usage of butter, ever.) No Thanksgiving dinner was complete without two or even three helpings of this simple yet delicious side dish. Mashed potatoes were a staple in most meals in my grandparents’ homes, but we all looked forward to them at Thanksgiving, as this was when this humble potato dish was joined on the plate with a savoury gravy made from the drippings of the roasted turkey or, on occasion, roast beef. 

I always ensured I spent most of my time in the kitchen “helping” with the cooking on Thanksgiving. I did this partially because I loved the smells and sounds, and partially because the rule was if you helped cook, you weren’t required to help clean up afterwards. My favourite part was mashing the potatoes, a job I was given at a fairly young age as it was nearly impossible to screw up and was a whole lot of fun! What child wouldn’t enjoy smashing a metal object into a giant pot of potatoes, imagining they were a dinosaur smashing everything in its path? Eventually, I got promoted to both mashed potato and gravy duty. This required a bit of planning and timing to ensure the potatoes were finished by the time the gravy was ready to be made. 

There was always a myriad of different side dishes that went along with the Thanksgiving meal: turnips, peas, broccoli, coleslaw, sweet potatoes, and parsnips were often included, although in different combinations. The one consistent dish, without fail, was the mashed potatoes.

With this Thanksgiving just around the corner, I am once again looking forward to that meal. Although the traditions and the people I celebrate with have changed over the years, one dish remains the same: mashed potatoes.

Featured Image: Mashed potatoes are a crucial part of a Thanksgiving meal. | Pixabay