At the risk of propagating Idaho’s”famous potato” reputation, I am compelled to return to this hot topic. As my loyal readers are aware, I am a shirttail relative of one of the creators of the acclaimed Tater Tot, a delicacy sold in stores for the past sixty years under the Ore-Ida label.
Unless you have been living on another planet, you know that a “tater tot” is a cylinder-shaped product, approximately one inch high, compiled of riced potato pieces, which is french fried then frozen and packaged for commercial sale. Ore-Ida founders F. Nephi Grigg and his brother Golden claim to have created the product in 1956, while trying to figure out what to do with leftover slivers of cut-up potatoes. Here is where I beg to differ. You see, Thelma Chase, my father’s sister’s mother-in-law, used to tell us kids that in her younger years she swept the floor of her husband’s potato warehouse in southwestern Idaho. One day it struck her that these spud scraps should not go to waste. She claimed it was her idea to chop them up, add flour and seasoning, then push the mash through holes, next slicing pieces off the extruding mixture. The result was the scrumptious potato turds we know and love today –Tater Tots.
Henry Chase, Thelma’s husband and my father’s sister’s father-in-law, entered the picture when he supposedly came up with a method of processing frozen potato products, which he shared with the Grigg brothers. After applying for patents on this process, law suites ensued and things got messy. But to this day my cousin, Henry and Thelma’s granddaughter, claims her deceased fraternal grandparents are responsible for the inception of one of the most popular frozen potato products on the market. Their success is evidenced by the enviable homes the family still enjoys both in the Boise Valley and mountains of central Idaho.
It might be worth noting that our tots enjoy popularity worldwide, albeit under varied names. Down under in Australia they are sold as “Potato Gems” or in some areas, “Potato Royals,” or “Potato Pom- poms.” In the United Kingdom, Brits once enjoyed “Oven Crunchies” which are sadly no longer available. Canadians devour “Spud Puppies” and “Tasti Taters” while SAFEWAY stores here in the U.S. carry a generic brand consumers know as “Tater Treats.”
To further promote my native state’s prime product, in 1918 the Idaho Candy Compay created the IDAHO SPUD, a chocolate/coconut bar shaped like a potato, its wrapper touting–“The Candy Bar That Makes Idaho Famous.” Sickeningly sweet and loaded with ingredients we now know are poisonous, the Idaho Spud contains ample sugar, coconut, corn syrup, cocoa, chocolate liqueur, nonfat milk powder, egg albumen, and such mysterious additives as soy lecithin, potassium sorbate, and a few artificial flavors, not to mention several allergens and sulfite products. Yummy.
My dearly departed mother used to occasionally mail us a box of IDAHO SPUD bars here on the east coast. This “special treat”would remain in our pantry for several months before ending up in the dumpster. But Mom’s thought was appreciated if not the pounds of nauseating candy.
Enough about potatoes. Lest I tempt more outsiders to invade what some consider “America’s best-kept secret,” I will not elaborate on Idaho’s extraordinary natural resources. From soothing hot springs, to dormant volcanoes, to magnificent glacial lakes, a waterfall taller than Niagara, a haunting “River of No Return” wilderness area, jaw-dropping mountain ranges, and legendary ski resorts, Idahoans love their state. As one native recently wrote, “True, we know Idaho is underrated, and often phonetically confused with Iowa and Ohio, but we love it here, and are not dying to move somewhere better or more civilized. Even if Idahoans travel or move elsewhere, we know our Gem State equals fresh powder at Christmas and and invigorating waters in summer. It’s all about mountains, lakes and rivers; it’s home, and that’s all that matters.”
Admittedly, I am one of those restless,foolish souls who has wandered the world for decades. But next month I am off to take advantage of some of that fresh powder and breathtaking scenery. And without any doubt, I will know I’ve come home…