Pine Rosin Potatoes
[pīn rä-zən pə-tā-tōs]
n: A method for cooking potatoes that calls for boiling them in rosin, producing a moist, fluffy interior
From the colonial period to the mid-twentieth century, a rolling pine forest covering a large swath of the South was the lifeblood of a naval stores industry that comprised a sizeable portion of the region’s economy. Though by its end, the extractive enterprise had bled trees dry and scarred the landscape that gave it life. But it left behind one of the South’s most peculiar culinary curiosities: pine rosin potatoes. Workers took to boiling potatoes in rosin (what’s left when pitch is cooked to remove turpentine) as a way to use the abundant byproduct. The viscous substance steams the tuber, producing a feathery and delicious potato that retains heat for hours.
With little written documentation, most accounts of rosin potatoes live in the minds of those who grew up eating them. “I’ve always found that really interesting,” says Sean Brock, a Nashville, Tennessee, chef who’s forged an identity reviving Southern foods. “It’s great we still have stuff that’s undiscovered.” The potatoes also underscore the importance of oral histories in preserving regional traditions. “We live in an age when if it doesn’t come up on Google, it doesn’t exist in our minds,” Brock says. “And that scares me.”
But that’s not to say rosin potatoes never made it out of the woods. Most notably, they were served at Cracker Barrel restaurants for about a decade, from the early 1980s to the early ’90s. A recipe also appeared in the 1973 edition of The Joy of Cooking (in which they are said to pair well with cold ale). So what do the potatoes taste like? “When I eat them, it reminds me of playing in the woods as a kid,” Brock says. “There’s the earthiness of the potato, and the tiniest hint of pine—those smells that are so embedded when you grow up in the South.”