Syracuse Salt Potatoes

My experiences with people from upstate New York have always been cordial. My first Latin professor at Ole Miss happened to be from the Finger Lakes region, and he was the bluff, jovial sort you’d hope to find teaching such a subject. When I was in graduate school I met a man from Buffalo who is a scholar of the first water in the beautiful, convoluted study of blues music. Then I met Jake, a man of depth and parts, who though from Syracuse, is thoroughly adjusted, acclimated and otherwise oriented to living in central Mississippi. Mirabile dictu, he likes it here; mind you, he finds room for complaint,  but we all here have that in common.

Once long ago Jake mentioned a dish unique to Syracuse: salt potatoes. When I said I’d like to make them, he said, “You can’t.” Salt, he explained, is not the problem; you can use any pure salt you like, but you can’t use just any potato. The authentic, die-hard, “you will go to hell if you don’t do it this way” recipe demands new russet white potatoes (grade “B” I’ve been assured by my buddy from Buffalo, who is conversant in the matter); not red, not bakers, and most certainly not sweet. Such spuds to my knowledge (which is admittedly limited) are not grown nor sold in the state of Mississippi. I snagged a sack of small bakers a while back, and Jake said they “might work” but “weren’t right”. Then came the day when we went to the Farmer’s Market and found a basket of new Yukon Golds, a variety developed in southwest Ontario, which is in spitting distance of upstate New York. We both knew that while these potatoes are not the original russet-type that the Irish salt miners in Syracuse prepared for meals during their grueling work days, the best compromise possible was made. Sometimes that’s all you can do.

Bring eight cups water to a low boil and stir in two cups salt. Likely not all the salt will dissolve, depending on the softness or hardness of your water (soft water will hold more salt). The potatoes will sizzle while boiling because of moisture leaching out of the skins. Once the potatoes are done through, remove them with a slotted spoon into a colander and let them dry until a salt crust forms on the skins. Serve hot with melted butter for dipping.