The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Mountain Recipe - Potatoes

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1987

Issue: March, 1987

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways," many years ago. She was no doubt referring to Robert Browning, her husband, but to this country girl, those words could just as easily refer to potatoes.

Ah, potatoes, what would we do without them? If you grew up country proud or city poor, I don't have to tell you the importance of potatoes.

There isn't anything you can't do with a potato. You can fry, boil, bake, and make soup. Slice, dice, hash, shred and mash them. You can cook them in their skins, out of their skins or re-stuff them back in their skins. There is even a clock on the market now that is reported to run on potato power. It seems that you hook the clock up to the potato with some kind of wires.

At any rate, people have been relying on potatoes for a long, long time.

Here in the Blue Ridge, people seem to be even more partial to potatoes than most places. I guess it's the predominately Scotch Irish heritage of our forefathers still running rampant through our genes. Blue Ridge Mountain people take pride in growing some mighty big, beautiful potatoes. Larry Boyd of Vesta, Virginia grows his own and saves the biggest and best for next year's seed potatoes. Everyone around knows that he grows some mighty fine potatoes, but I think he was bragging just a little when he told of one of them. It seems that he brought one potato in for his wife, Myrtle, to cook for lunch. They both ate off of it and put the rest away for supper. After eating on it again at supper, it was put away for the next day when their son came over for lunch, when the three of them finally finished it off.

One farmer dug a pit one year, filled it with sawdust and planted his potatoes in it. Not only did it grow good potatoes, it was no trouble digging them and they weren't even dirty!

As a child, I dearly loved potato soup. It was my favorite "sick food." When my sister or I had a cold, stomach ache or flu, Mother always put on a big pot of potato soup to ease our ills. It's still my favorite food to comfort and warm me. What could be more soothing than a thick creamy bowl of potato soup salted and peppered, with a big pat of butter melting slowly in the center?

Anyone with a country background will probably remember the tantalizing aroma of a black iron skillet full of potatoes and onions frying in a little fatback grease.

Through the years, many recipes have come into being using the versatile potato, many of them as fancy as fancy gets. They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but that doesn't seem to apply to potatoes. A friend told me a good one you might like to try. It's called "Half Baked Potatoes." If you like baked potatoes but don't have the time it takes to prepare them, you'll love it. Wash baking potatoes. Melt butter in a baking dish. Cut potatoes in half, placing the cut half in the butter. Bake as you would any other baked potato only these will get done in half the time. You also get a bonus of a buttery, crusty side.

There are even many uses for leftover potatoes. Leftover baked potatoes can be grated and fried into hash browns. Leftover mashed potatoes can be mixed with a little milk and enough flour to hold them together and made into patties, fried in a frying pan like thick pancakes, or dropped into a deep fat fryer like hush puppies to make into potato puffs.

You can even make candy out of potatoes. Boil one medium size potato. When done, mash all lumps out of it until it is very smooth. Keep adding confectioners sugar until you have a very stiff batter. Roll this out thin, and then spread a thin layer of peanut butter over it. Roll it up jelly roll style and refrigerate until firm. Cut into thin slices and you have delicious peanut butter pin wheels.

One of my favorites is herbed potatoes. Peel and slice potatoes into thin round slices. Melt one fourth pound of butter in a baking dish. Sprinkle tarragon and chervil into the butter. Dip each slice into the butter herb mixture, coating both sides. Arrange potatoes in rows in the same baking dish and bake in a 350 degree oven until slightly brown, around 30 to 40 minutes. Be sure to spoon butter from bottom of dish over potatoes when you serve them.

So far I've only mentioned recipes where potatoes are the main ingredient. There are thousands of recipes combining potatoes with other vegetables and meats.

In conclusion, I'll leave you with one more recipe, a family favorite. The origin of the recipe, I have been told, was Sweden. Someone's grandmother brought it with her when she migrated to America many years ago. It's very good. Enjoy!

Potato Chowder

2 cups diced pared potatoes
3/4 cup minced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
2 1/2 cups water (boiling)
4 tbsp margarine
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp powdered mustard
2 cups milk
1/4 lb. grated cheese (1 - 1 1/2 cups)
1 tbsp minced parsley
1 can canned tomatoes

Combine potatoes, celery, onion and 1 tsp. salt and boiling water in covered kettle. Simmer 15 min. Melt butter in pan. Stir in flour until smooth. Add remaining 1 1/2 tsp salt and next three ingredients while stirring. Cook until thick. Add cheese, stir until melted. Stir into potato mixture. Add parsley and tomatoes. Heat and serve.