Salt potatoes might seem too basic for words. After all, boiling potatoes with salt is de rigueur. But in central New York, locals use a lot more than a pinch to make their salt potatoes. By adding a huge amount of salt to the potato water (say, two cups of salt for every eight of water), cooks create a white-crusted, savory potato that’s surprisingly creamy.
This style of potato is more than tasty. It also has deep roots in local history. Onondaga County, where Syracuse is located, was once the United States’ leading salt producer, giving the town the nickname “Salt City.” In the 19th century, Irish salt workers would often bring along sacks of potatoes for lunch. While boiling down brine from Syracuse’s salt springs, workers would add in the small, white potatoes that became the spud of choice for salt potatoes. Soon, the potatoes were a staple. In 1899, one newspaper boasted, “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.”
These days, salt potatoes are more of a delicacy than a necessity. Often, grocery stores will sell bags of potatoes with the right amount of salt included. Served with melted butter, they’re an easy, salty treat. Love for the potatoes has even extended to the baseball field. Each August, the Syracuse Chiefs become the “Syracuse Salt Potatoes” for a few nights only, complete with a scowling potato mascot.