History lesson: The origins of a north country cookout staple

Salt potatoes: A New York staple
Published: Jun. 23, 2023 at 6:10 AM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - It’s summertime and no barbecue is complete without a big pot of salt potatoes on the side.

If you’re new to the area, you may be wondering: what is a salt potato?

“A salt potato is a small white potato that’s boiled and you cook it in salt,” Dave Missert,said. “It’s pretty simple.”

Missert is the co-chair for the annual North Country Goes Green Irish Festival, where salt potatoes are consumed by the hundreds.

“We go through about 400 to 500 pounds of salt potatoes every year at the festival,” he said.

It’s a treat you only find in upstate New York, where they were invented.

“It didn’t come from Ireland,” Missert said. “It came from the Irish in central New York.”

In the 1840s, as the Irish potato famine struck, many Irish immigrants came to upstate New York. There were jobs for them at the Salt Springs of Syracuse, which was nicknamed Salt City for its wealth of production.

Workers could take just one gallon of brine from the Onondaga Lake and boil down an entire pound of salt. Because of this, Syracuse was producing 90% of all salt used in the United States by the 1870s.

The Irish workers had the idea to make a cheap and efficient lunch by boiling their potatoes in the brine baths — and the salt potato was born.

“It’s just a callback to Irish settlers in New York state,” Missert said, “and it’s nice to have a tie to that heritage.”

It’s still simple and delicious 150 years later.

“It’s one of our best kept secrets here in upstate New York,” Missert said. “We have a lot of food secrets, and this is one of them.”

So that’s all there is to it. Most people eat them with the skins on with butter, salt, and pepper. What could be a better local staple?