Tuesday, November 3, 2009


That which we call a "patate"

If you've ever been confused or amused by the term pomme de terre en robe de chambre (potato in a dressing gown!) then you are not alone. Even French people wonder if it isn't a silly
mispronunciation or charming deformation of pomme de terre en robe des champs, meaning a potato cooked in its skin.

In fact, both terms are correct and in common usuage, but  pomme de terre en robe de chambre is the original eighteenth century French phrase for an unpeeled potato. Long ago, a dressing gown or a robe de chambre enveloped the body entirely, from neck down; thus the logic for the term's use.  The expression was transformed over time (some contend by Parisians) to the less tickling and more elegant "en robe des champs"or field dress, i.e., as it comes from the fields.

You can't stop progress and one of the niftiest convenience foods on sale in French supermarkets are small microwavable packages of pristeen new potatoes. Containing about four servings, the packages go directly into the microwave, without piercing, and the potatoes are perfectly cooked and delicious  after a mere seven minutes.

Disappeared from fields during WWI then resurrected in 1977 to become the most coveted gourmet potato on French tables is the Ratte du Touquet. With its light yellow, firm flesh, fine texture and nutty chestnut flavor, this small crescent shaped potato is painstakingly cultivated in the north of France in the sandy, chalky soils and mild climate of the Côte d'Opale and Picardie. 

Potato Storing Tips
Keep an eye on your potatoes and store them in a cool dark spot, 5°C to 12°C (41°F to 53°F) in a container or loosely wrapped in a dishtowel. Too much warmth causes the potatoes to sprout; too much cold causes them to become sweet. Exposition to light turns them green and bitter.

Text & photos ©2009 P.B. Lecron 


  1. I can't resist posting these comments a French friend, Laurence emailed me about this article (we both go in and out of French and English in our conversations): "Hi Patti ...I really enjoyed reading your lines about les patates. And I learnt that pomme de terre en robe de chambre is the true expression for it. I always thought it was a mistake, or misunderstanding or misspelling by ignorant people of the expression "robe des champs". D'ailleurs je trouve les deux expressions tout aussi poétiques et jolies l'une que l'autre. Décidément j'en apprend beaucoup en te lisant; d'abord la "guigne" et maintenant "la robe de chambre/des champs". Continue c'est très amusant et très intéressant..."


  2. It is still a great article!

  3. Patti,
    I know now what I'll serve as part of fixings for supper this weekend.....rattes in their dressing gowns....Cheeses from your earlier blog and perhaps some chocolate will accompany, so thank you very much!
    I enjoy and learn from each blog

  4. Even better than the potato from Le Touquet : the bonotte from Noirmoutier.
    Buy it at the Versailles market and try, and you'll thank me for the info !
    Even better : go on holiday to the island (of Noirmoutier), they serve the local pride everywhere.

  5. Mummmm ! Yummy potatoes !
    I love the Ratte du Touquet !
    What I usually do is to put them in cold water and just boil them 20 minutes then remove the water and leave them in the casserole. Then at the diner time I just put butter in a pan, roll them to roast and add "fleur de sel" (??? Sea granulated salt ???) Sooo good ! Bon appétit !