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Q&A: Who Invented Hash Browns?

Q: Who invented hash browns? I have a theory…When my wife and I have steak and cook too many baked potatoes, she refrigerates them overnight, grates them the next morning, and makes very, very good hash browns.   Nothing added–just the old baked potatoes fried in a cast iron pan.  I heard my late father speak of staying in hotels (he was born in 1902) and the fabulous breakfasts they would have.  I’ve wondered for years if during rough times, the big hotels possibly saved the leftover baked potatoes from the night before and made hash browns out of them like she and I do now.  I really don’t recall if someone suggested this to me, if I sublimely recall the old folks mentioning it, or if I dreamed it up.  I doubt that I will run into anyone who worked in an old hotel in my neighborhood, but will ask any old timers I might run into, and if you know any older hoteliers, please ask them.

A: My thoughts initially were that the Swedish Roesti is the source for the modern hash browns sold in QSR.  According to the James Beard book Menu Mystique the first recipe for Rosti was found in Switzerland in 1598.  In the US in early foodservice establishments fried potatoes or home fries appear in hotels, resorts (such as Fred Harvey) and of course the Railroad dining cars.  Hash Browns offer the processor of pre-peeled potatoes a ready outlet for using slivers, side cuts, and short pieces which are screened out of or otherwise removed from French fry cuts.  So, it is logical that the frozen hashed brown potato came out of the first French fries which were produced for fast food locations or drive-ins during the early fifties.  Of course, shreds made from cooked whole potatoes can fry better than shreds made from under sized cuts in that they can be more consistent in size allowing for more uniform cooking.  The earliest notes I found on processed hash browns were 1956.

By far, the best explanation I have seen for the origin of hash browns is from this link.

Hash browns” (also called “hashed browns,” “hash brown potatoes” and “hashed brown potatoes”) are a popular breakfast dish, served today at fast food restaurants almost everywhere.  The term “hashed brown potatoes” was used by food author Maria Parloa (1843-1909) in 1888, “hash brown potatoes” is cited from 1895, “hash browns” is cited from 1911 (part of lunch counter slang), and “hashed browns” is cited from 1920. Hashed brown potatoes were a popular breakfast dish in New York City in the 1890s and were served in the finest hotels.

Hash brown potatoes are diced, mixed with shortening and chopped onions, and then fried to form a browned potato cake.  I think author Barry Popik has a good handle on the origins of this very popular dish.

Can you imagine going to a McDonald’s now and ordering the #1 meal deal for breakfast, an Egg Mc Muffin and not having it served with a hash brown patty?

Here are some of the creative things chefs are doing with Idaho potatoes for hash browns:


BLT Hash Browns

Breakfast Pastry

Crispy Southwest Home Fries With Fresh Fruit Salsa

Idaho Loaded Hash Browns

Idaho® Potato Hash Brown Coated Chicken Cutlets

Tomato and Onion Hash Browns

Potato/Vegetable Casserole Supreme

Stuffed Idaho® Potato Hashbrowns

This entry was posted on Monday, January 25th, 2010 at 5:29 am and is filed under Consumer, History, Q & A, Recipes. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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