Sunday, November 13, 2011

No-Hassle Hasselback Blue Potatoes for Novel Food


Some old tins and a few shriveled potatoes occupied a shelf and some vague
vegetable refuse the window.

It reads like a sentence out of Dickens, and in more than one way, the thirty-seven page account of John (Joseph) Merrick in The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences by Dr. Frederick Treves reveals just as much about the dreadful poverty, social ignorance, cruelty, and compassion of Victorian times as the thick tomes written by one of the preeminent novelists of the day.

John Merrick, less commonly known as Joseph, his true given name, is far better known still as The Elephant Man. He suffered from what is now believed to be Proteus Syndrome, an affliction that dramatically distorts and disables the human form. Although a dramatization of his life was filmed in 1980 by the surrealist director David Lynch, it is Dr. Treves' careful and kind recollections of his discovery of and subsequent enriching friendship with Mr. Merrick which leaves the strongest imprint of the folly of judging by appearances. It also shows the rewards of suspending such judgment until a measured and patient evaluation can be made.

Dr. Treves' first encounter with Mr. Merrick was a circumstance of chance. The storefront where Mr. Merrick was exploited as a freak was directly across from the hospital where Dr. Treves practiced surgery. It was in this godforsaken place of business where Dr. Treves observed the ghastly lack of sustenance and comfort due every human being as birthright.

Although Dr. Treves lost touch with Mr. Merrick after their initial meeting, another circumstance of chance ultimately reunited them, this time preempting any other separation until the end of Mr. Merrick's life four years later at the age of twenty-seven. In was during these last years that Dr. Treves saw to it that Mr. Merrick, a man discovered to be of high intellect, manners, and sensitivity, enjoyed a secluded, comfortable, and dignified life in a quiet suite of rooms at the hospital. His wishes, however simple or fanciful, were indulged, and acknowledged with a sincere and moving gratitude which is an enduring lesson in humanity for all the ages.

It is probable that Mr. Merrick and Dr. Treves had never encountered the anomaly of blue potatoes arranged on their dinner plates. But I know that given each man's remarkable character, and joy in living and giving, that neither would have refrained from a single mouthful.

No-Hassle Hasselback Blue Potatoes - My own recipe
[Hassleback potatoes are traditionally made with large, very round, evenly shaped potatoes. Because I am using fingerlings, I have halved and slit them on their cut sides, which is a much easier and more practical method.)

Serves 2-3.

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1 pound blue fingerling potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon paprika
3 tablespoons minced fresh or dried chives
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Coarsely ground salt


Soak potatoes in large bowl of cold water for 10 minutes. Tick or trim off any bruises with the tip of a sharp knife. Remove potatoes from water onto kitchen towel, covering them to dry.

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Cut potatoes in half lengthwise. Make several short cuts across cut side of potatoes with a very sharp knife while holding the potato half vertically. (You do not have to cut very deeply, only enough that the seasoning will catch in the slits. The look is rustic and casual rather than elegant.) Place cut side up on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for ten minutes. Remove from oven. Melt and mix butter, paprika, chives, and black pepper in a small saucepan. With a pastry brush, coat the cut side of each potato half with butter mixture. Return potatoes to oven and bake another 20 minutes. Remove from oven. Scatter with salt and serve immediately.

This recipe is for Simona of Briciole, hosting Novel Food, the quarterly event featuring the comestibles we find within the pages that we love to read. Simona will soon have her round-up online. Do stop by for a read and a nibble.


Been There, Done That ~

Roasted Rosemary Blue Potatoes
Duchess Potatoes
Sweatbox Potatoes with Herbs and Butter

Other People's Eats ~

Herby Purple Potatoes from The Purple Foodie
Baked Blue Potato Chips from Laura Rebecca's Kitchen
What Can I Do with Purple Potatoes? from The Kitchn


  1. Never new there were blue potatoes;)

  2. A lovely and interesting post! Those Hasselback blue potatoes look delicious.



  3. This book has been on the back burner for a while. Thanks for bringing it back to my attention. Hasselback potatoes are such a beautiful presentation.

  4. Adored how you linked this post to the Elephant Man. I can remember seeing the film when it came out and leaving the cinema unable to utter a single word it was so profoundly thought-provoking and moving. Must read the book. PS Potatoes look great too!

  5. A very interesting post and love your version of Blue Hasselback potatoes.. Thnx:)

  6. touching story and awesome recipe. i never knew blue fingerling potatoes existed, until now. i'll keep an eye open for them and try your recipe.

  7. Dzoli - The world is full of tidbits yet to be discovered. Blues originally hailed from South America and are very popular in Peru.

    Rosa - Ta. : )

    Val - You can read the entire piece online. It is very short and very moving. Yes, aren't Hasselback's great?

    Thanks, Sally. When I hear of those who have been profoundly affected by Joseph Merrick's story, I know I have met a kindred spirit.

    Malli - Thank you. Good to see you here.

    Paz - Thank you. The recipe is very easy. I found the potatoes in my local supermarket, packaged by Green Giant (no plug) in 1.5 pound netted bags. Roasting maintains their vivid color better than boiled and mashed, although their transformation to the pale is quite pretty, too.

  8. Very nice and thoughtful presentation of the story, which I have also not read. And those blue fingerlings match perfectly the mood you create. Thank you so much for your contribution to Novel Food.

  9. We have these in New Zealand too, they are called urenika, they are moslty cultivated by Maori gardeners, I love them but they are hard to find!


  10. A thoughtful and tasty post. Great job for Novel Food!

  11. What a lovely post. That book sounds wonderful - and the recipe seems to go very well with it. I'll keep my eyes peeled for blue fingerlings so that I can try this out!

  12. Sounds like a fascinating book. Love the potatoes!

  13. I am curious about how these tasted - I once tried to roast blue potatoes and was disappointed with them - hope these were more successful

    nice summary of the elephant man - I always thing of the parody in The Tall Man but you are far kinder!