A Suggested Substitute for the Tyrant Potato

This is the second article in April of the School for Housewives 1905 series published on Apr 9, 1905, and is an article on the benefits of rice over the potato.

Personally I would eat a well cooked potato over rice any day.

School for Housewives – A Suggested Substitute for the Tyrant Potato

Among the many new avocations undertaken by the clever modern woman, when suddenly thrown upon her on resources, is that of professional glove cleaner.
In a magazine article written almost twenty years ago I thus characterized a vegetable which by methods mysterious to the student of dietetics has established itself as a “necessary of life” in all English-speaking countries. Potatoes are no cheaper than turnips, and less easily raised than cabbages; less nutritious than carrots, and more insipid than any one of the half-dozen esculents I could name.

When “new” they are almost as indigestible as bullets, when “old” they have a rank, weedy taste. Yet the arrogant tuber holds royal rank in palace and in cottage. Children are allowed to eat it before they cut their eye teeth, and the family bill of fare gives precedence to it tri-daily in many a home. Prices of potatoes are quoted along with wheat and corn; poor and rich must have them, no matter how dear.

As I write there lies before me a well-written paper covering two columns of the Culinary Corner in a prominent family weekly. The article is headed “A Potato Luncheon.” I quote from the introductory paragraph:


“Concerning the potato as an article of food, arguments have waxed warm, pro and con. Without taking either side, it may be said that no vegetable which may form soup to dessert, not omitting bread, is to be scorned for its food properties, and of none is this true except the potato.”
“The menu follows:
Potato Soup,
Potatoes with Cheese,
Potatoes with Onions,
Curried Potatoes,
Potato Salad with Potato Gems,
Potato Souffle, Potato Cake,
Potato Pie.”

Not staying to discuss what may be called a culinary freak – since no sane housekeeper would risk setting family and guests for all time against the stupid tuber tortured into seven different forms – we relegate the ingenious menu to the niche occupied in gastronomic literature by the Frenchman’s pebble soup. Dr. Franklin is said to have astonished a party of friends with a sawdust dinner.

To prove that I do not stand alone in unfavorable criticism of our ugly tyrant, I give a story told to me today of Mrs. Borer’s views upon the same subject:

“Why,” she asked, in the course of a demonstrated lecture, “will people persist in ranking potatoes as the principal vegetable admitted to their tables?”

“Because they are nourishing,” said a listener.

The lecturer shook her head; “but they are not!”

“Because they are readily digested?” ventured another.

“Not at all!” replied the lecturer.

“Very harmless?” was the third venture.

“Quite the reverse!”

After a silence, some one spoke more confidently.

“But what tastes better than a mealy roasted potato?”

Mrs. Rorer smiled; “Al, now you have advanced one fairly sound arguments in their favor!”

I hope the anecdote is authentic! It is good enough to be true and worthy of my distinguished contemporary.

A baked or roasted potato – while it has no flavor to boast of – is the least objectionable member of its class.

Now for my suggested substitute for the plebeian who ought never to have been raised from his native level.

A careful writer upon the comparative value of food says: “Plain, boiled rice, rightfully cooked, is actually digested and begins to be assimilated in one hour, while other cereals, legumes, and meats, and most vegetables require from three and a half to five hours. Rice thus enables a man to economize fully expended in the digestion of ordinary food, setting it free to be used in his daily vocation, in the pursuit of study, or social duties, and in the case of invalids and enfeebled vitality, adding it to the reserved force of the system.”

“It has been carefully estimated that rice contains more than four times the energy in Irish potatoes, and when the waste in preparing potatoes is considered, the difference is increased to six-fold. It is scientifically ascertained that of the food taken into the human body, one-sixth goes to the replenishing and upbuilding, and five-sixths go to produce energy. The value of food is based upon the amount of energy it can furnish rather than its capacity as a mere flesh-producer. It is evident that, on this basis, rice stands first among human foods.”


The idea that rice is wishy-washy stuff, fit only for the consumption of invalids and children, amounts to prejudice among the ignorant and the laboring classes. Those whose charitable work qualifies them to pronounce upon this point will sustain this statement. Other cereals come under the same condemnation. One invalid to whom I offered cracked wheat thoroughly cooked, and mantled with real cream, returned the reply; “Thank you, ma’am, but I would not eat such messes when I was well, let alone when I am sick.”

Another to whom I sent a bowl of delicious chicken broth, refused it because “there was rice boiled with it, and she couldn’t bear nothing that had rice cooked in it.”

A third would not so much as taste rice jelly, so sure was she that “there was no substance to it!”

A well-to-do parishioner in a country church once came to me in perplexity concerning the stocking of the pastor’s pantry, which was to be a surprise gift upon his return from a trip abroad. Shelves creaked under pies, cakes, jars of pickles, preserves, mincemeat, butter, lard, coffee, etc. There were two barrels of flour, one of potatoes, one of sugar, a chest of tea, a box of soap, and – hence the distress – one woman had sent in a tin case containing ten pounds of rice!

“I dare not keep it back,” lamented the mistress of ceremonies. “But I am downright ashamed of it. It looks so common, somehow!”

Being Southern-born, I retorted in surprise; “Not as common as potatoes, too my way of thinking.”

How shall we fight a prejudice so reasonless and so deep-rooted?

In the first place, by teaching those who hold it how to cook our substitute properly.


To borrow from our military dietetist:
“There is one practical difficultly to be surmounted, especially among the families of our working people. Rice is not generally well cooked in the North. The boiled rice is apt to be soggy, or mashed, in a way to be unattractive in looks and to the taste, and undoubtedly less healthful than when properly cooked. It should be boiled or steamed so that each kernel stands up distinct and whole. A certain amount of mastication is conductive to better digestion. One reason that rice is more popular in the South is that it is usually better cooked.”

Marion Harland


Housewives, in Council Assembled, Help Each Other
Some Excellent Recipes for Cooking Rice