Ornamental Separator

How to Make Potato Balls

Watch our historic foodways staff cook this recipe, then try it at home

There’s a reason our Historic Foodways apprentice, journeymen, and master tradespeople sometimes call Mary Randolph’s “Potatoe Balls” recipe the “Colonial Tater Tot.” Watch the video below to learn how we make this recipe in our kitchens based on the 18th-century description below, then use our 21st-century translation to try the recipe at home!

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this recipe is Mary Randolph’s direction to boil the potatoes with skin on to keep the starch in for frying. In many historic recipes, the technique is not spelled out as one would require in modern recipes. However, 18th century cookbook authors assumed that the reader was already a cook and familiar with a variety of processes.

18th Century

“Mix mashed potatoes with the yelk of an egg, roll them into balls, flour them, or cover them with egg and bread crumbs, fry them in clean dripping, or brown them in a Dutch oven. They are an agreeable vegetable relish and a supper dish.”

— Randolph, Mary. “the Virginia Housewife.” Pg.120.

21st Century


  • 2 lbs. russet potatoes
  • 1 egg plus 1 yolk
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • flour or seasoned bread crumbs


  1. Boil potatoes with the skin on until tender. This will retain the starch in the potato and make it hold together better.
  2. Drain potatoes and allow to cool slightly before mashing.
  3. Add egg yolk to mashed potatoes and mix well with a fork to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. As this is a very sticky mixture, the easiest way to form the balls is to coat your hands with flour. Then, taking a tablespoon of the mixture at a time, shape into balls and dredge in a dish of flour.
  5. Beat the remaining egg. Dip potato balls in the egg, then roll them in bread crumbs to coat.
  6. After all balls have been coated, place in refrigerator for 15 minutes up to an hour.
  7. Potato balls can be baked in a 350 degree oven for approximately 10 to 15 minutes until lightly browned. Or, for a better flavor, fry in vegetable oil until lightly browned. Using one large Russet potato, this receipt makes 20 medium sized balls.


Hannah Glasse (1708-1770)

By far the most well known of the 18th century cookbook authors, Glasse’s “Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy” became the cookbook to have if you lived in Britain at the time. Many editions later, it was still being used in the 1840s when Mrs. Beeton’s works hit the market. Although accused of being ghostwritten, her book was well organized and easy to follow without high, ornate language. The book appealed to the upper as well as the middling ranks.

Glasse, Hannah, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, Revised Edition of 1796, United States Historical Research Service, Schenectady, New York, 1994.

Learn More


Historic Foodways