Salt potatoes are small nuggets of potato and salt — more specifically, small, unpeeled boiled potatoes encrusted in salt.
They end up looked like small little “doughnut holes” (the part that doughnut shops in North America “cut out” to make the hole and fry up and sell separately) dusted with sugar.
The potatoes actually taste more roasted or baked than they do boiled, even though they were boiled.
At various times, they have been called “Hot Salt Potatoes” and “Syracuse Hot Salt Potatoes.”
They are very similar in concept to the Papas Arrugadas made in the Canary Islands.
Salt potatoes are popular in north and central New York State, and are sold everywhere in Rochester, New York. Supermarkets in the area sell “kits” that contain the right kind and quantity of potatoes, and the right quantity of salt, for you to boil up at home, even telling you how much water to use.
The best known brand of kit is Hinerwadel’s. They always put the packet of salt on top of the potatoes in the bags to avoid damage to the salt packet. The salt supplied is “bulk salt.” Stores such as Wegman’s also sell their own brand of kit. The kits are inexpensive, selling for about $3.00 US a bag (2006 prices.)
Salt Potatoes are often served at clambakes, usually with lots of butter, and are sold at fairs with wooden forks. They are also sold at concession stands at Syracuse’s ballpark called “P & C Stadium.”
For the potatoes, you can use new potatoes, creamer potatoes, salad potatoes or Fingerling potatoes, but creamers are the usual. The size of the potatoes will range from 1 inch (2 ½ cm) to 2 ¼ inches (5 ¾ cm.) It’s considered by many, though to be just shy of blasphemy to use a red-skinned potato: the skin should be white or buff skinned.
The potatoes are scrubbed, left unpeeled and boiled in very heavily salted water. When you first start adding salt to the water, it will just dissolve, and that’s where usually you stop adding salt to something you are cooking. In making Salt Potatoes, though, you need to keep adding salt until the salt doesn’t dissolve because the water can’t take any more up. There should be salt crystals on the bottom of the pot.
You simmer the potatoes until tender, then drain them. There will be lots of salt remaining in the pot; disregard it. Let the drained potatoes stand for 5 minutes for the salt to crystallize on their skins.
Serve hot, with butter for dipping.
There are some recipes for low-salt versions, but most people are baffled by the very suggestion and wonder what the point is of even trying to have low-salt Salt Potatoes.
Hinerwadel’s Kits advertise themselves as “Hinerwadel’s famous the Original Salt Potatoes.” The potatoes and the salt are packaged in a paper bag with a mesh window on the back (the salt is in a separate pouch in that bag.)
The kits each contain:
- 4 ¼ pounds (2 kg) of creamer potatoes;
- 12 oz (1 cup / 340g) of salt.
You empty both the salt and the potatoes (don’t peel the potatoes) in a pot containing 2 US quarts (2 litres) of water, bring to a boil, simmer until tender to a fork, drain and serve.
It will take about 20 minutes to cook.
There are salt mines in Syracuse (along Solar Street and Onondaga Lake) and in Ithaca, New York.
Salt Potatoes, most people believe, appear to have originated with workers at these mines. In processing the salt, the workers would have to boil brine in large vats to evaporate off the water, leaving the salt behind. Reputedly, they decided that since the water was boiling anyway, they might as well cook their potatoes in it (some versions add that the workers were mostly Irish, to reinforce the “potato” connection.)
Some sources state that the term “Salt Potatoes” was first coined by John Hinerwadel of North Syracuse, New York in 1914, but this is incorrect. There are 1895 print references to “Salt Potatoes”, even in Oakland, California, which assume that the term is known.
The potatoes were served in at least one saloon in Syracuse, the “Cafe Keeffe”, perhaps as a way of making people thirsty to buy more beer. Early fame for the potatoes seems in fact to have rested with the Keeffe brothers who ran that saloon.
Then, the fame passed though to a family named Hinerwadel. In 1914, a man named John Hinerwadel Sr. founded a 31 acre event site with indoor and outdoor facilities called “Hinerwadel’s Grove” at what is now 5300 Taft Road in North Syracuse. He made Salt Potatoes to accompany the clam bakes the family held there. Salt Potatoes had already been an outdoor grilling / picnic tradition in Syracuse for decades before this.
The store called Hinerwadel’s Inc. in Clay, New York, just north of Syracuse, started selling the Salt Potato kits in the 1960s.
Some sources imply that Hinerwadel’s has a trademark on the name or concept, but that is incorrect: they have a trademark on their logo, a large red circle with a yellow sunburst around it, with a banner across the top of it that says “The Original.” They received US Trademark No. 1193451 for this logo on 6 April 1982; they had started using it in September 1980.
Hinerwadel’s is still family owned as of 2006 by three sisters: Vicky, Cindy and Trudy.
Hinerwadel’s sued “Isadore Rapasadi & Sons” of Canastota, New York, which had distributed their own Salt Potato kits since 1991. “Isadore Rapasadi & Sons” reputedly obtained identical bags, down to the Hinerwadel’s logo on them, from the people who made the authentic bags for Hinerwadel’s, a company named General Bag Company of Cleveland, Ohio. “Isadore Rapasadi & Sons” then filled Hinerwadel’s bags with their own potatoes and sold them on. They started the practice in December 2004, and stopped in December 2005. The potatoes supplied were reputedly larger, and blemished. Hinerwadel’s said they were alerted by customer complaints about falling quality.
Literature & Lore
“Recipe Wanted: Can anybody tell how hot salt potatoes are prepared. The kind that are served in saloons, whole with jackets on? A. 0.. Syracuse”
— Question from reader (no response). In “Herald Select Cookery” column. Syracuse, New York. The Herald. Evening Edition. 28 May 1895. Page 5.
Cream of Rice Soup.
Pork Chops | Apple Sauce.
Hot Salt Potatoes| String Beans.
Mayonaise of Tomatoes [Ed. sic] | Cheese Crackers
Baked Custards | Coffee”
— A Menu for Tomorrow, Tuesday, 10 September. Oakland, California. Oakland Tribune. Evening edition. Monday, 9 September 1895. Page 4.
“Of all the Bohemian resorts in the city there is but one that is distinctly a product of Syracuse. For sixteen years it has flourished in Wolf Street, and the Brothers Keeffe, who are its proprietors, are almost as well known throughout the country as was “Nick” Enzel of New York and his famous beefsteak.
The salt potatoes of Syracuse rank with the baked beans of Boston, the terrapin of Baltimore, the scrapple of Philadelphia and the frankfurters of Milwaukee. They were born with the salt industry of the city. In the immense iron kettles in which the brine was slowly boiled into salt, the urchins of the First ward prepared feasts for a king. A few potatoes, a few ears of corn, access to a salt kettle and a little patience were the only requirements.
The corn and potatoes were dropped into the kettle, a wait of half an hour would bring a rich reward to the youthful epicures. Potatoes, mealy and bursting through their skins, with the salt clinging to them in particles that shone like miniature diamonds, tickled the palate in a meal that was not to be despised.
The Keeffe brothers in their younger days boiled potatoes in the old salt kettles. When they were older and added a barroom to the queer little old grocery shop of which they were proprietors, they bethought themselves of the salt potatoes of their boyhood, and salt potatoes formed the entire bill of fare of the lunch which they served with the foaming beer.
Salt potatoes were popular with the public, and a Syracusan who entertains a stranger without giving him a chance at the delicious delicacy is lacking in some of the fine points of hospitality.
The saloon where they are served isn’t much in the way of a luxurious drinking place. A plain little bar takes up one side of the small room, whose sawdust floor leads through a door into a room beyond, where a table placed among the kegs and barrels of liquers [Ed. sic] makes up the furnishings of the Cafe Keeffe.”
— Social Life Among the Mixed Nationalities of Syracuse. The Sunday Herald. Syracuse, New York. Sunday, 5 March 1899. Page 26.
“Syracuse Hot Salt Potatoes – Boil the vegetables in a rather strong brine, and drain on a piece of cheesecloth stretched almost tight across the top of a pan. They will be covered with salt crystals, and will be very mealy inside.”
— Housekeeper Column. Washington, DC: Washington Post. 23 April 1905. Page M5.
“ANGLERS WILL SERVE TON OF PIKE TO-NIGHT
Hold Fourth Annual “Fish Fry” at Alhambra — Entertainment After Dinner
The fourth annual fish fry of the Anglers Association will be held at the Alhambra at 7.30 o’clock to-night and one ton of fresh Lake Ontario pike have been ordered for the event. Tickets for the fry were limited to 600, and it was said last night nearly all of these had been taken.
With the fish will be served clam chowder, hot salt potatoes, salad, coffee, etc., and an orchestra will play during the evening. At the conclusion of the dinner, a number of amateur vaudeville acts will be presented, in addition to a six-round boxing bout between Martin Younger and “Battling” Thomas. It was announced last night that members or friends, not desiring to attend the dinner, would be admitted to the gallery to see the entertainment.”
— The Post-Standard. Syracuse, New York. Morning edition. Thursday, 20 January 1910. Page 7.
“Engineers and contractors of the middle division of canals, numbering 150 men, attended the clambake and picnic given at Pleasant beach yesterday afternoon under the auspices of the local office. The men came from points on the Oswego, Cayuga and Seneca canals as well as the portion of the Erie between the lines of Kermimer and Wayne counties….. The good things placed before them soon disappeared. Clam chowder was the opener to whet their appetites and this was followed by clams prepared in different ways, lobsers [Ed. sic], fish, chicken, roasted onions, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, salt potatoes, a great abundance of bread and butter and vegetables and green corn and watermelons.”
— Clam Bake Draws Engineers From Two Canal Divisions: More than 150 enjoy outing at Pleasant Beach — Athletics a feature. The Syracuse Herald. Morning edition. Sunday, 13 September 1914. Page 20.
Dickinson, Casey. Hinerwadel, Rapasadi embroiled in ‘fake potato’ lawsuit. Syracuse, New York: The Central New York Business Journal. 3 February 2006.
Kramer, Jeff. Are your salt spuds just duds? Syracuse, New York: The Post-Standard. 10 February 2006.
Weibezahl, Sue. Fake salt potato bags? Syracuse, New York: The Post-Standard. 4 February 2006.