Don’t laugh. I put this in my book, The Captain’s Temptress (formerly To Cuba With Love).
My heroine, Samantha Ethridge, is mad at the hero, Sean Nolan, and she’s in the ship’s galley, peeling potatoes with the ship’s cook. She peels her potato with a paring knife so that the skin comes off in one long strip. Now that’s hard, but Samantha is so clever with the knife she’s daydreaming that she’s peeling Sean’s scalp away with each twist of the vegetable in her hand.
You’re laughing. But I really did write it that way. Peeling a potato in one long curl is an art. I even wrote that the cook complimented her on her manual dexterity.
So I decide to write about potato curls—how to make ‘em, what to do with ‘em, etc., etc. I know I’ve seen this done before, but I’ve never done it myself. Too impatient. But I’d like to write about it. Maybe even learn the art, now that I’m older and have infinitely more patience to, you know, learn things to wow my grandsons with my cleverness. (After all, I was the one who taught them how to make perfect holes in their salami slices without ripping the sides!)
But first I have to find out how to do it—how to hold the knife, exactly where to start, how wide to make the strip, how to hold the potato, etc., etc. I wrack my brain. Where have I seen it done? Maybe a movie, or tv. I don’t remember.
So I go to Google, the place where all interesting (and time sucky) searches begin, and type in “how to make potato peel curls.” Up pops some interesting recipes I might try someday, and everything I’ve ever wanted to know about peeling potatoes.
The modern way.
For that I could have asked my daughter, the chef. But she’s too busy running her restaurant and I don’t want to bother her anyway.
I go back to the Google list. I find two youtube videos describing a method of peeling potatoes I’d never heard of before. Both showed scoring a ring around the potato skin with a knife, boiling the potato, dunking it in ice water for 10 seconds, then gently working off the two halves of skin with your fingers. Clever! I’ll try that the next time I make mashed potatoes or potato salad.
But those videos show nothing that remotely looks like peeling skin off a potato in one long curl.
A demonstration video from Rada Cutlery shows me how to use their paring knife to cut slices of peel off the potato lengthwise, but nothing about cutting skin off of a potato in one long curl. Close, but no cigar.
A website tells me five things I can do with a potato peeler—shave chocolate, peel fruit, shave Parmesan, thinly slice vegetables, and peel other vegetables. But not how to peel a potato in one curled piece.
Then I find it. The 21st Century version of the ancient art of potato peeling—a machine that does it for you. The darn thing looks like an apple peeler/corer. In fact, it is. It does both. Peels both potatoes and apples, and cuts and cores them.
Cool. Only it’s a machine. Not that they didn’t have potato and apple peeler gizmos in the 1890s when my story takes place. They were probably the ones with a crank handle you find in the Country Store catalogs. You know, the ones that clamp on the underside of the counter or table. I think I had one of those myself when we had apple trees in our yard and I baked apple pies every few days from August through November.
But I digress.
Well, the long and the short of it is, after spending much too long looking for something that doesn’t want to be found, I’ve wiped my hands of preserving the historic art form of using a simple paring knife and setting it to potato in gentle, measured strokes. Such unique and entertaining kitchen endeavors shall remained consigned to the imaginations of those of us who write historical novels. And remember seeing demonstrations of how to do this, but not remembering where.
Samantha Ethridge, may your delicate kitchen talent live on in The Captain’s Temptress.