A potato masher is a food preparation utensil used to crush cooked food. Its name comes from its most common use: crushing cooked potatoes into mashed potatoes. The potato masher consists of a handle connected to a mashing head of various designs and sizes of slots to allow the potato to be pushed through.
In 1887 inventors Jacob Fitzgerald and William H. Silver were awarded a patent for a “potato-masher and fruit-crusher.” The device, which later came to be known as a “potato ricer,” works by crushing the potato through a sheet of small holes, akin to a garlic press. This makes extremely fine mashed potato or a pureed consistency.
In the mid to late 1800s, two masher types of the modern design we see today emerged. The most popular has an ‘S’ wound wire that is flat at the bottom, or sometimes a round or square wire grid that is flat at the bottom. This is probably the potato masher your grandmother had. Because of the room between these ‘S’ winds, there is never the worry of over-mashing the potatoes. The other type of masher has a round disc with holes drilled into it, but it can over mash the potatoes.
How do you make perfect mashed potatoes? It is all in the potato masher, the right kind of potatoes, and a little butter, salt, milk, and elbow grease. An electric mixer, food processor, or ricer can make the potatoes overly sticky because over mashing activates the starch in the potato. Some experts say you can use a handheld electric mixer, but most agree the old fashioned, original design works best. The best varieties of potato for mashing are Russet, Yukon Gold, or Red because they yield smooth and creamy mashed potatoes. The basic recipe for mashed potatoes is pretty much the same all over—it is what you add to them after they are mashed that distinguishes one recipe from another.