The familiar crunch of cornflakes on top of cheesy potatoes transports many Latter-day Saints back to family reunions, time at their grandparents’ house, ward cook-offs — wherever they ate the Utah staple: funeral potatoes. But that’s not the only infamous potato dish Latter-day Saints have made — a Latter-day Saint also invented Tater Tots.
This crunchy, fried breakfast potato is now an American staple. Here’s how we got it.
Who invented Tater Tots?
F. Nephi Grigg, a relative of Parley P. Pratt, was born in Nampa, Idaho. His entrepreneurial spirit began at the age of 12 and continued when he was older. According to the Deseret News, Grigg acquired the company that became Ore-Ida and first began selling frozen corn.
Grigg ran the company out of a tiny Oregon town that bordered Idaho, sparking the name Ore-Ida. The company had heard about selling fried frozen potatoes and wanted to step into that business. According to LDS Living, this led Grigg to invent the Tater Tot.
Are Latter-day Saints associated with Tater Tots today?
Not at first glance, but Tater Tots definitely fit patterns of Latter-day Saint cuisine today.
According to NPR, Latter-day Saints gravitated toward convenience foods during the mid-20th century. NPR wrote, “Once a people who made everything from scratch, they became a people who put ready-made foods into other ready-made foods: canned soup on instant rice, Sprite in sherbet, and, of course, Corn Flakes on potatoes.”
While Latter-day Saints are better known for funeral potatoes, some Latter-day Saints have made Tater Tot recipes as well. One recipe website called Mormon Mavens lists a recipe for a Tater Tot casserole. This recipe has plenty of cheese and potato not unlike other popular Latter-day Saint recipes.
Another blog called The Life of a Mormon Housewife also lists a different Tater Tot casserole recipe. This recipe sounds eerily like funeral potatoes with its cheese, cream of chicken soup and sour cream, but it also adds Hidden Valley ranch seasoning into the mix.
Napoleon Dynamite and Tater Tots
In LDS Living’s article about the history of Tater Tots, it includes the famous reference to Tater Tots in the movie “Napoleon Dynamite.”
While “Napoleon Dynamite” is not expressly a Latter-day Saint movie, Matt Bowman pointed out some connections to Latter-day Saints in a 2018 Deseret News article. Bowman wrote, “Napoleon’s struggle, then, is in a sense the struggle of all Mormons who seek to work out what it means to be a person with a body that, they are taught, is both divine and, in Book of Mormon parlance, ‘natural.’”
Conscious of it or not, the scene where Napoleon Dynamite has Tater Tots overflowing in his pant pockets might just be one of the most on-the-nose depictions of Latter-day Saint culture yet.