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Potatoes

IN THE January 15 ISSUE

FROM THE 2011 Articles,
andFood Fun,
andMargaret Mendel,
andTerrific Tales
SECTIONS

by Margaret Mendel

Recipe for RED POTATO SALAD WITH GARLIC VINAIGRETTE at the end of this article.

I had an uncle who used to eat raw potatoes. I remember seeing him in late summer leaning against a fence post, the hot sun blazing down on his newly turned potato patch. He’d rinse the dirt from one of the potatoes with the water from a gallon jug he carried on the back of his tractor, inspecting the potato for a short while. He’d then slice it up with his pocketknife and pop the morsels into his mouth. In the back of my mind I have a niggling memory that I have tasted a raw potato, but I cannot remember the incident.

I grew up in a German-Irish household and I only remember a few dinners from my childhood where we did not have potatoes in the evening meal. Mom tried to get rice and pasta on the table but Dad complained that this fancy food gave him heartburn or that he could never get full eating that kind of stuff. So, mom found herself chained to the potato striving to serve this vegetable in every way that she could think of.
In my freshman year of college I had a friend whose mother was afraid of potatoes. She believed that they were often poisonous and refused to cook them. I thought my friend’s mother was nuts. I’ve since learned though that poorly stored potatoes will develop toxic alkaloids and the shoots that sprout from the eyes of a potato can also contain toxins. These potatoes must be peeled very thickly and all sprouts thoroughly removed. Though I’ve never known anyone who has gotten sick or died from eating this vegetable.

When I left my parent’s home I thought I’d forever be done with the potato and I’d convinced myself that if I didn’t cook the potato, all that this vegetable represented to me simply did not exist. For years I used noodles in place of potatoes in my soups. I never baked, fried, mashed or creamed a potato. My son, however, ate buckets of mashed potatoes when we went to a restaurant and my daughter fell in love with French fries at a very early age. So, slowly the potato wheedled its way back into my life. And though I didn’t like it, I stopped fighting the past and I began to cook what my mother used to call, ‘those danged old things.’

I visited a museum the other day and saw Van Gogh’s painting titled “The Potato Eaters”. It’s a dark piece of art made up of mostly brown tones. The entire painting has the look of a dirty unwashed potato that has just been pulled from the earth. The people in the painting are ugly and strangely resemble potatoes themselves. Yet, Van Gogh manipulated the tones of his paint in such a way that it appears, even with only the glow of lamplight, that there is a warmth in the room. In a letter to his brother Van Gogh said: “I have tried to make it clear how those people, eating their potatoes under the lamplight, have dug the earth with those very hands they put in their dish, and so it speaks of manual labor, and how they have honestly earned their food.”

This painting made me think of my family eating potatoes on a stormy winter night. My father’s fingernails grimy from motor oil and my mother becoming more stooped as the years went by, her face pinched and her eyes dulled with disillusion. I don’t think we looked like potatoes but there was something so honest and raw about our lives back then that I could have almost seen my father as the man in the Van Gogh painting reaching out, handing one of my sisters a roasted potato impaled on the end of kitchen fork.

Mom didn’t keep up with the growing varieties of potatoes that had begun to hit the market place. When I told her that I’d been served mashed purple potatoes at a wedding reception, she said, “Well, I’ll be. What will they come up with next? How’d they taste?”

“They tasted like potatoes, Mom.”

There was a time in my young married life when we had to make every penny count. During those days I boasted of being able to stretch one chicken to last an entire week. I didn’t feel poor. I felt challenged. Cooking chicken had become a game, a nightly tournament.

I wish now that I had asked my mother if she had felt challenged when she stood at the kitchen stove cooking potatoes. Had she turned the potato into her own personal tournament the way that I had done with the chicken? I guess I want to believe that she found some enjoyment in creating our dinners from that never-ending supply of potatoes.

RED POTATO SALAD WITH GARLIC VINAIGRETTE

3 pounds small red potatoes (washed well but not peeled)
4 cups stock (Chicken, vegetable, beef stock or water. Stock adds flavor to the potatoes.)
Salt
¼ cup sherry vinegar

½ cup red onion, finely diced
½ cup celery, finally diced

Vinaigrette:
4 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
¼ cup sherry vinegar
1 Tablespoon good quality prepared mustard
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup vegetable oil
Salt and pepper

¼ cup fresh basil, minced
¼ cup fresh mint, minced

Cook potatoes in stock (or water) until fork tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain potatoes and reserve liquid for another recipe. Slice potatoes into ½-inch thick slices. Put potatoes in large bowl, drizzle with ¼ cup sherry vinegar, toss gently and set aside.

When potatoes have cooled add finely diced onion and celery.

Vinaigrette:
Combine garlic and mustard in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk in vinegar. Slowly add oils, whisking vigorously to make a thick emulsion. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour vinaigrette over potato mixture and toss lightly. Add basil and mint and toss once again. Let stand for 1 hour before serving. Served best at room temperature.

Margaret Mendel was born in San Jose and has a Master’s degree in Counseling from the University of San Francisco & a Master’s of Fine Arts in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Currently residing in New York, she has had several short stories and articles published.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 sharon Casteel January 16, 2011 at 9:12am

I enjoyed this article. The author has a way of writing that makes you feel like you were there at her dinner table.

I am going to try the recipe featured above.

Reply

2 margaret January 17, 2011 at 11:59am

So glad you felt as thought you were at the dinner table with me!! I hope your red potato salad turns out yummy!!! Thank you for your comment. Stop by again!!!

Reply

3 Eric Parker
Twitter: @ericpsarangi
January 19, 2011 at 6:59am

thanks Margaret – that was fabulous – I too have stopped eating potatoes that were an absolute staple as a child
and I know that VG picture well
Excellent article
Eric
A recent post from Eric Parker: Bloor and Bathurst- TorontoMy Profile

Reply

4 Margaret January 20, 2011 at 11:52am

Thanks so much for stopping by. I took a look at your blog post and had a great laugh!!! You are a fantastic street photographer!!!

Reply

5 Maila Cadd January 19, 2011 at 4:16pm

Margaret, I do remember eating raw potatoes more than once. Many Saturday’s our dinner was “kalakeitto” ,a Finnish dish of layered sliced potatoes, onions and salted salmon. I enjoyed the crisp flavor of the garden fresh potatoes and would take a few pieces before Mom scolded me. She’d put the dish in the oven before we went to sauna and when we were through, so was dinner ! Thank you for bringing back memories and thanks for the new recipe. Maila

Reply

6 Margaret January 20, 2011 at 11:54am

What a great memory!!! I’ve made a form of ‘kalakeitto’ and it’s very yummy!!! But, a sauna before dinner!!! What a great idea!! Thanks so much for the visit.

Reply

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