"Salt Potatoes - The Real Taste of Summer," so it boldly states on the white bag of Hinerwadel salt potatoes. This rings true for many central New Yorkers. Just about any cookout you go to here in the summer, you're bound to find salt potatoes. How did salt potatoes get to be a staple summer food of CNY? And are they truly a Syracuse original as many people claim?
"Hinerwadel's Grove has been serving salt potatoes with their clambakes since 1914," said Vicky Hinerwadel, president of Hinerwadel's Grove in North Syracuse.
But why a clambake in Syracuse? And how do salt potatoes fit in?
"My Grandfather loved clams," Hinerwadel said. "It was one of his favorite foods. He started the bakes as a side business. His real job was working for the post office."
He offered clams, lobsters, corn-on-the-cob, salt potatoes and more to the public.
But what about those salt potatoes? Did they really get started here?
"It's safe to say that we sell more than a million bags of salt potatoes a year," said Butch Ezzo, general manger of Hinerwadel's Grove.
The main thrust is between April and September. Hinerwadel's ships their salt potatoes as Far East as Schenectady and as far west as Rochester. They are found in all the major grocery stores in central New York.
The potatoes come from various sources," Ezzo said. "We start with Florida potatoes in April and as the season progresses we get them from all along the coast."
By August all the potatoes are locally grown. The size of the potato is an important factor as Ezzo explains, "A potato plant will produce various sizes potatoes all at the same time, some large, some small. We use only size "B" potatoes."
The start-to-finish of bagging salt potatoes is done on site. It begins with 50-pound bags of potatoes emptied into a hopper and then scooped up on to a conveyer belt where they are visually inspected for quality. Bruised, cut, and sliced potatoes are rejected.