Turning Archive 2005

Sharpening & using a potato peeler

Charles Bjorgen
>When on Thanksgiving morning my wife enlisted me to peel the potatos that would become the mashed accompanyment to our turkey and dressing holiday meal, I was immediately reminded of my frustration the last time I accepted this task. The potato peeler simply would not hold an edge.

We have four of the most basic peelers made, the kind you buy for a buck or two at your supermarket. I had previously looked at several methods for restoring the edge of the peeler, even looking longingly at my Wolverine jigging system as well as some honing guides I use for chisels and plane irons. I had previously tried sharpening stones but finally settled on a diamond paddle hone, blue plastic, probably fine grit, the kind we use for touching up edges of our skews and gouges.

I discovered quickly that it only took a few strokes crossways on the peelers’ edges to remove any rust and to yield a clean, sharp edge. Yet, after peeling my first potato, it stopped cutting. I then picked up the second of the four peelers, went to work with that one only to experience the same kind of loss of edge as the first one. This one by then had accumulated a jamming of peelings in its throat (like shavings stuck in a bench plane?) so I cleaned out the jam with a paper towel, wiped the cutting edge and tried it again. Voila!! It worked as it should.

It didn’t take long to draw the conclusion that my problem was a build up of the natural starches that caused the peeler to slide along the skin of the spud without cutting it. It’s also possible that my preference for peeling potatos dry before washing may have caused the buildup of the troublesome starches. Nevertheless, the job went smoothly with my newfound technique of cleaning the peeler after each potato was done.

As I pondered my discovery, I decided to Google the term ”potato peeler” to see what new technical wonders might be out in the commercial world to make this job easier and more efficient. I saw none exactly like the ones I use but there were several streamlined versions available, many with the cutting edges set crossway to the handles that would encourage more of a “pull” cut. Several varieties were shaped like apple corer/peeler combinations and, in fact, said they could process both apples and potatos. These were in the $25 to $35 range.

Of special interest to me was one model of automatic peeler that is an insert for a commercial food processor. Its interior is a rough, abrasive structure that literally scrapes the peels from potatos as they are tumbled and washed inside the container. This reminded me of a large, self-contained tumbler machine I first experienced when I was on KP duty in Army boot camp at Fort Leonardwood, Missouri, in 1954. While it saved me from the job of hand peeling, my reaction was that it sure wasted a lot of potato.

The Starfrit Rotato Potato Peeler Express at $29.99 works almost like a vertical lathe. The spud is centered on bottom spokes (drive spur) and an upper section (tailstock) is lowered to hold the target. Press a button and the potato revolves as a cutter does the peeling. The picture shows a potato whose natural shape is followed by the cutter.

But back to my basic peeling tools. When peeling you’ll want to ride the bevel. Failing to do so may not result in a catch but you’ll probably take off more meat than you wish. My peelers allow for both a pull cut and a push cut. If you prefer one stroke over the other, a right-hander may need to learn to peel with his left to utilize both cutting edges. Lefties can adjust to the other side. Sounds to me like Alan Lacer.

I regret the lack of empirical data in this report. I did not use control groups to isolate differences in russets from reds, wet peeling from dry, or from the wide varieties of peelers available. I have a fair knowledge of what the scientific method is but will ask that you accept my humble anecdotal findings on this matter.

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