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My Mother's Cooking - Potato Dishes
Potato Dishes - Chapter 6
My Mother's Cooking
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My Mother's Cooking
Chapter 6 – Potato Dishes
Both my mother and father grew up on potato farms in North Central Wisconsin. Therefore, it is not surprising that potatoes played a predominant role in my mother’s cooking. We ate potatoes for supper almost every day and any leftovers were fried for lunch the following day.
My mother even saved the cooking water from boiling potatoes to use when she baked bread. The potato starch gave the bread a nice texture and flavor. We often bought potatoes in fifty pound sacks from the local farmers that my father knew.
The potatoes that I grew up with were rounder than the Burbank Russet (Idaho) potatoes that you see everywhere today. They were firmer and almost had a slightly sweet taste when they were young. You didn’t have to worry about them turning to mush when you boiled them.
We ate them boiled, fried and baked and also as potato pancakes, potato dumplings and even potato soup. What follows are some of my observations on the various ways that you can prepare potatoes:
Remember that the best part of a baked potato is its skin. This is the area where the vitamins are concentrated and the skin has the most flavor. Many fine restaurants serve potato skins as appetizers. When I was a boy, I would scoop the flesh out of my baked potato while it was still warm and place several pats of butter inside. This is the first thing I would eat before anything else. To get a crisp, tasty skin on your baked potatoes, first wash them in cold water and remove any excess water. Place them in an uncovered shallow baking pan and roast for about 50 minutes at 325 degrees until a fork easily penetrates the flesh. About half way through, poke a few holes in each potato with a fork to let the steam out. Never wrap your baked potatoes in aluminum foil unless you want steamed potatoes instead of baked potatoes.
New potatoes and red skin potatoes are best boiled with their skins on. The skins can easily be removed later if desired, but they are completely edible. Older potatoes should be peeled first and cut into quarters or even more pieces if they are very large. After washing them, place the potatoes in a pot and cover them with cold water about an inch over. Add a tablespoon or more of salt and quickly bring them to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and continue cooking for about twenty minutes until they are fork tender. For potato salad, you should leave them a little underdone so that they will not fall apart when mixing them. Drain the potatoes and serve them immediately or rinse them in cold water if you intend to make potato salad.
Any leftover baked or boiled potatoes from our evening meal were fried the next day. My mother frequently used lard or leftover bacon grease to cook them, but you can use vegetable oil or butter. If you don’t have any leftover potatoes, it is almost as easy to start with raw potatoes. Then, you will have to let them cook a little longer. Use your fork to see if they are done. My father used to like a chopped onion fried with his potatoes. If you add chopped up roast beef or corned beef, you get hash which is frequently served with a fried egg on top. Fried potatoes are really quite versatile. Use your imagination.
We seldom had French fries when I was growing up because they were time consuming to make and required a great deal of oil to cook them in. There was always the question of how to use up and store the oil that was left over. Anyway, I learned how to make them from her. If you do make your own French fries, you can also use the same oil to make croquettes or even deep-fried stuffed potatoes.
My mother frequently made her version of scalloped potatoes to serve with hamburgers, meatloaf, baked ham or a variety of roasts. Occasionally, she added cheese to make potatoes au gratin. I have taken this even farther to make one-dish meals by adding ham, sausage or ground beef. There are many other possible combinations.
It was usually my job to grate the potatoes when my mother made dumplings or pancakes. We used a simple box grater and a lot of elbow grease. While you can use a food processor or even a blender instead of grating, it will not give the same texture. Be sure to save the liquid that collects along with the grated potatoes. How much flour you should add is a matter of judgment. For dumplings, the batter should be as thick as bread dough, so that the dumplings will not come apart in boiling water. A little salt is generally added to the dough instead of adding a lot of salt to the boiling water. Depending on the size and shape of the dumplings, they can be added to soups or stews. They can also be fried in butter, or in bacon fat along with onions and various meats.
Back when Catholic families still practiced abstinence on Fridays, potato pancakes frequently showed up for our Friday evening meal. The potatoes were grated the same as for dumplings, but an egg was added and the batter contained less flour so that it could be poured on to the griddle.
Krube and lefse are traditional Norwegian dishes. Krube is made from raw potatoes and is a large dumpling with a surprise in the middle. Lefse is made from mashed potatoes and is like a thin, flat pancake. It is cooked on an almost dry griddle like a flour taco shell, and it is served warm with butter. My mother’s first husband was a Norwegian, and she learned to make these dishes from his mother.
For additional information and recipes for each of the above categories, refer to my individual Hubs.
How to Make Potato Pancakes
Double Stuffed Potatoes
Corned Beef Hash
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