Q. I recall from my youth in the 1950′s that the baked potatoes then had a thicker skin, and when well baked the skins had a crunchy consistency. Today’s potatoes have a very thin skin with a rather saggy consistency. I am wondering what causes the difference.”
A. Back in the fifties and continuing right up to the nineties, Idaho primarily grew one successful variety of russets, the Russet Burbank, which was named after famed plant scientist Luther Burbank. He is also the one credited for the Shasta Daisy, the Freestone peach and 800 other plant varieties. Scientists at the University of Idaho, and Idaho growers have tried to come up with other russet varieties that would keep the baking qualities you talked about, but also be a little easier to grow, store and be available early in the season. One variety that has caught on with retailers, because of its lighter, even colored skin, nice uniform oval shape and a slightly moister inside, is the Russet Norkotah. This takes less time to grow, matures quicker, and so can be offered to the trade a little earlier than the traditional Russet Burbank. This also enables Idaho to now be able to offer product nearly year round.
While it is always hard to diagnose what you are experiencing, I am guessing that your local stores are probably still stocking the Russet Norkotah and have not switched over to the Russet Burbank yet. If you are buying potatoes by the bag it’s pretty easy to find out. By law, Idaho potatoes have to have the variety noted on the packaging. There will be either a quick release closure that holds the top of the bag shut or wording right on the bag itself that indicates what variety is inside. It sounds like your favorite, which bakes up a little drier and has a crispy outer skin, is probably the Russet Burbank. I have also included some links talking about varieties, the harvest and baking. Hope this helps.
Some interesting links on baking potatoes, russet potato varieties: