Holiday Appetizers Through the Decades | 1930s Potato Puff Balls
Welcome to “Holiday Appetizers Through the Decades,” a special series celebrating over 75 years and 9 decades of Yankee Magazine holidays and tasty party appetizers! Each post spotlights a new decade with a classic cover, seasonal advice from the pages of Yankee, and one special party-pleasing holiday appetizer recipe for you to try.
Yankee Magazine was born in 1935, smack in the middle of a decade characterized by the devastating economic effects of the Great Depression and the motto “make do with less.” Of course, we Yankees have always prided ourselves on our frugality, making the 1930’s a fitting decade for New England’s official magazine to get its start.
Christmas during the 1930’s was largely no-frills, with the emphasis on togetherness of both family and community, along with hopes for an extra-special meal come Christmas Day. After trimming the tree, families gathered around the radio or played a board game for fun (Monopoly also got its start around the same time as Yankee). With little cash to spend on presents, special treats like fresh fruit and nuts were often given to children in their stockings.
Holiday entertaining may not have been high on the list for Depression-era housewives, but thanks to their abundance, the mighty Maine potato was the ideal choice to be worked into a tasty party-pleasing appetizer.
For this week’s ode to the 1930’s we’re featuring “Puff Balls” from a 1937 article dedicated to northern Maine potatoes — specifically titled “Aroostook’s Hundred Recipes” and penned by Pearl Ashby Tibbets, the “busy wife of a very busy country doctor in Bethel, Maine.” Reading through the recipe, it seemed like the puff balls would look and taste like an early version of baked homemade tater tots, the much-beloved school cafeteria snack.
And they were! With hot mashed potato centers and buttery breadcrumb shells, these potato puff balls certainly were good showered with salt and dipped in tomato ketchup. Having said that, though, if I were to make them again using the 1937 recipe, I would suggest using crushed potato chips, butter cracker crumbs instead of plain bread crumbs, or a combination of crispy Panko breadcrumbs with more butter (and perhaps more cheese) for added crunch and flavor.
After all, who can argue with more butter and cheese? Not this writer.
There aren’t many food features from this decade, and what I did find didn’t much resemble the kind of food content you’d see today. Intermittent stories on single ingredients like potatoes, apples, and oysters go on to list exactly one hundred recipes for each in tiny cramped paragraphs. It seems excessive, but in an era where local and seasonal crops couldn’t afford to be wasted, exhaustive recipe lists were mighty useful.
Below is a page from Mrs. Tibbetts’ spud spotlight.
That many potatoes (well done Frank Phillips from Shirley, Maine) would make an awful lot of Potato Puff Balls.
Potato Puff Balls Recipe Links
The Yankee Magazine Archives Holiday Advice
I Want to Know (1937)
Q. Last spring we bought a place in the country. I wish you could give me some ideas on making up some typical country Christmas boxes to send to city friends. — Mrs. Leslie Mason, West Brookfield, Vermont
A. Well, you probably put up some blueberry and blackberry jam last summer, or your neighbors did, and maybe a bit of wild grape. And pickles and those things. Why not get together a few jars of homemade preserves, add a bouncing plum pudding, and a fresh balsam pillow, if you have balsam on your land (or if your neighbor isn’t looking).
Thanksgiving Hint (1938)
Save your large turkey feathers so that next year when your cherry trees are bearing you can make a “scare-hawk.” Stick the feathers into a potato to imitate a bird; notch it and wrap it with twine; then tie it to a pole attached to the uppermost part of your tree. The wind will flutter the scare-hawk, and you, instead of the birds, will enjoy a yield of cherries.