My family had a strange relationship with Tater Tots. My mother never read the directions on packages, and she didn’t realize that they were supposed to be baked, and served crispy.
Instead, she steamed them in a sort of weird frat house casserole. She’d take a heavy pot, pour a layer of Tater Tots on the bottom, drop a frozen hamburger patty on top of that, and then pour ketchup all over the concoction. Then, she’d put it on the oven, turn the heat on low, and go out to visit friends.
Sometimes she got home before it had turned into a burnt offering. More often, she didn’t. It didn’t make much of a difference. The resulting dish was kind of an edible archeological dig — a layer of tan, topped by a layer of gray, topped by a layer of reddish-brown.
It wasn’t until I had my own apartment, and did my own shopping, that I read the package — and realized what she had made weren’t Tater Tots, they were Tater Mush. (Something I should have realized from looking at the package.)
In the years since, Tots have been a staple in my freezer. And something I order when I see them on restaurant menus. Not when they’re generic Tots – I can make those myself. But when they’re quirky, sui generis, oddball, out-in-left-field Tots. Which often they are. Though never Casserole Tots.
Tater Tots come, of course, with a history. But not one that tracks back to antiquity. They were invented in 1953, when the founders of Ore-Ida were trying to figure out what to do with…