The Brothers Grigg had just started a frozen food company to make, among other things, french fries. But what to do with the scraps of spud left behind? These potato pieces were too small for proper fries, but there were too many of them to be discarded. One day in 1953, F. Nephi Grigg came up with a delicious solution: He chopped up the potato scraps, shaped them into bite-size cylinders, then fried them golden and crunchy.
Thus were born Ore-Ida Tater Tots.
As the past almost 60 years have proved, Grigg’s little brainstorm has been an enormous success. An estimated 3.5 billion Tater Tots are eaten by Americans every year, according to Max Wetzel, associate marketing director for Ore-Ida.
Tater Tots are so golden they have morphed from brand to cultural phenomenon. After all, what would the famed hot dish casserole of the northern Midwest be without that crowning layer of tots?
Tater Tots and its imitators long ago jumped from supermarket freezer cases to restaurant menus across North America. Many chefs make their own; home cooks can as well, thanks to recipes like Lara Ferroni's “Real Snacks: Make Your Favorite Childhood Treats without All the Junk” (Sasquatch, $19.95).
Ferroni, an Oregon-based food writer, doesn’t remember much junk food in the house as she was growing up in southern Georgia, but “there was always a bag of frozen Tater Tots in the freezer.”
Prep: 45 minutes Cook: 10 minutes
Makes: About 54 tots
Ferroni likes to grate a little sweet potato or yam into her tots. She also keeps the potato skin on to preserve more nutrients. Her recipe, adapted from Cooks Country magazine, calls for corn flour and ground millet flour; substitute whole-wheat flour if you prefer.
2 pounds russet potatoes (5-6 medium potatoes), cut into chunks
1 medium sweet potato or yam (1/2 pound), cut into chunks
2 cups cold water
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons each: corn flour, ground millet flour
Pinch cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
Safflower or peanut oil, for frying