The best source I found on the history of hash browns is on TheOldFoodie.com. This fellow explains how the Oxford English Dictionary first mentions hash browns in 1917, and hashed brown potatoes in 1900 – but this is “surely a mistake.”
“Hashing” foods is a concept that has been around since the 1500s, and The Old Foodie believes that people surely must have been hashing potatoes as well.
As further evidence that hash browns came about earlier, the Minnesota Farmers’ Institute Annual of 1835 is the first time a hash brown recipe was printed. There were three recipes in fact, for hash potatoes, brown hashed potatoes, and brown creamed hash potatoes.
Indeed, hash browns were originally called hashed brown potatoes, and the name shortened over time. The term “hashed brown potatoes” was first mentioned by food author Maria Parloa in 1888.
The “hashed brown potatoes” gained popularity in New York City hotels during the 1890s, and officially became hash browns as recently as 1970.
To further add to the confusion, the term “hash browns” was mentioned in America prior to 1970 – it was used by a character in the pilot episode of The Twilight Zone, in 1959.
So, to recap:
- In the 1500s, “hashing” foods was being experimented with.
- In 1835, variations of hash brown recipes were printed.
- In 1888, the term “hashed brown potatoes” was first mentioned.
- In the 1890s, hash browns were popular at New York City hotels.
- In 1900, the OED defined hashed brown potatoes.
- In 1917, the OED defined hash browns.
- In 1959, hash browns were mentioned on The Twilight Zone.
- In 1970, hashed brown potatoes officially became hash browns.
Although who declared the name shortening, I am not aware.
Although hash browns are credited as being from the US, there are similar dishes elsewhere that likely contributed towards the hash browns of today, and should be mentioned:
- Rösti of Switzerland – like a potato pancake
- Latkes of the Jewish folks – also like a potato pancake, but with eggs
- Tortilla de papas (or patatas) of Spain – like an omelette
Hash browns can be made several different ways, incorporating a variety of ingredients, including leftovers or whatever the heck happens to be in the fridge. A few of the popular hash brown variations are. . .Chopped or cubed, Patties, or “cakes”, Shredded, And of course, in a casserole style