The Almost-Lost Art of Rosin Potatoes
The intriguing history of a little-known cooking technique.
Turpentine and its waste product rosin are used for violin varnish, paint thinner, salves such as Vicks, and household cleaners like Pine Sol. Rosin was even used as a cure, dubious at best, for hook worms. But it is rosin that has made a name in the culinary world for baking potatoes to perfection.
I had my first rosin baked potato in Portal, Georgia, during their Catface Turpentine Festival, and I became hooked on rosin baked potatoes. Rosin, which can be hard to find in large quantities, can be purchased at the Catface Festival.
Rosin baked potatoes have a very humble beginning in the Southern pine forests of North Carolina and Georgia. Enslaved workers would create slashes in the pine tree that resembled the whiskers of a cat or catfish. The workers would tie a container beneath the slashes to catch the pine sap. Once the container was full it would be taken back for processing in a still. Yes, the same type of still that would also make moonshine. The still would process the pine sap into turpentine and the waste product of rosin would drip into a vat.
I have no idea who looked at this vat of rosin and decided to use it to cook lunch. Bless whoever did look and see rosin as a liquid oven to bake a potato. Now there are some folks trying to revive the turpentine industry in Georgia.
If you are interested in cooking rosin potatoes at home you can order rosin potato kits on Amazon. It comes with a large stock pot and rosin in its hard form. The stock pot can be misleading as it implies it is safe to do this on your stove top. I would not suggest this at all for cooking rosin potatoes. You should order a metal tripod from which you can suspend the pot. You can get metal tripods from almost any blacksmithing or historical re-enactor site like Townsends. Also, remember any pots or utensils used are to be used only with rosin from that point forward. I use an old cast iron pot that Smith Plantation has on hand, and a skimmer I order from Townsends.
The rosin is reusable. so after cooking the potatoes, the pan should be removed from the fire and set aside to cool and harden. I also leave the rosin on my skimmer so that I don’t confuse it for another spoon when doing cooking demonstrations.
Once you learn how to make rosin potatoes you really should invite neighbors and friends over. They will be impressed with your knowledge of history as well as your ability to make the best potatoes they have ever eaten.