A sampler of the potatoes of Mum’s life and love

My mother’s potato peeling skills were only exceeded by her potato cooking expertise and were the thing culinary legends are made of. And since food and love go together, my mother’s love was measured in barrels.

It’s impossible to estimate how many hours she stood at the sink brandishing a paring knife. She could shave the skin from potatoes with the precision of a surgeon, results so thin they could have been submitted for frozen sections to the pathology lab.

Dad raised Katahdins on our farm, a round white variety. Most of the time Mum cut these gems in half and boiled them leaving the mashing and garnishing to us when we sat down for supper. Garnishes did not include anything fancy like bacon bits, sour cream or chives but consisted of butter and salt and pepper.

She always cooked extra and anytime I peered into the refrigerator searching for bread pudding or a slice of cream pie, I’d have to move a Tupperware container of boiled potatoes aside to reach my rich reward.

You might think her no-frills approach to cooking potatoes was boring, but having an endless bowl of potatoes readily available was food for my mother’s mission to create nourishing potato concoctions for us morning, noon and night.

You say potato, I say love. Photo credit: Pixabay, edited with PicMonkey

Today you may hear this breakfast treat referred to as hash browns, but in our house when Mum fried leftover potatoes in a cast iron skillet it was hash. And it was not necessarily served for breakfast.

In late summer when fresh beets were available she would add them to the potatoes to make ‘red flannel hash.’ I always thought their beauty justified the label ‘red satin hash,’ but a potato dish is too humble to adopt such a pretentious name.

Potato salad
Every Saturday night baked beans were on the menu much to my chagrin. As an adult, I enjoy them and understand why Mum needed one night a week when she could combine yellow eye beans, molasses, and a slab of salt pork for a nearly effortless entrée.

Chunks of cold potato combined with chopped onion, hard-boiled eggs, and miracle whip made the perfect side dish for Mum’s Saturday night supper.

French fries
Those were the years before McDonald’s gave us access to french fries 24 hours a day. We would tremble with excitement when my mother reached for her french fry cutter, heated cooking oil in a deep skillet, and fried potato strips into individual pieces of heaven.

Holidays called for mashed potatoes with butter and heavy cream to make them rich and smooth. Leftovers were difficult to deal with since we didn’t have microwaves at that time. But if we managed to avoid licking the bowl clean, she would add onion and fry them like little pancakes for the Christian version of potato latkes.

New potatoes
In the spring Mum would take liberal slices when she peeled potatoes retrieved from the bottom of the barrel, removing gray spots and sprouts while we waited for a new crop of spuds.

What pleasure it was to accompany Mum into the field, dig up a potato plant and shake tiny potatoes from the roots about the size of Ping-Pong balls. Mum would scrub them clean, boil them with fresh garden string beans or peas and serve with her staple ingredient: heavy cream.

Rare treats
Usually, my mother left the donut making to my paternal grandmother, Grammie Sade, but every so often she dusted off her donut cutter and fried a batch of melt-in-your-mouth potato donuts.

Another uncommon goody was her homemade Needhams, composed of mashed potato, shredded coconut and so much confectionary sugar they made my teeth ache. Dipped in dark chocolate these were nothing short of divine.

You may wonder why I didn’t mention baked potatoes, but we rarely had access to russets, unless we bagged a few from one of Dad’s farmer friends. Patrick and I can’t get enough of the new Maine variety ‘Caribou Russets’ and I know Mum would have loved them too.

Are you a fan of white potatoes like I am? What is your favorite way to cook them? What food do you associate with your mother’s love?


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41 thoughts on “A sampler of the potatoes of Mum’s life and love

  1. Just the thought of new potatoes fresh from the garden makes my mouth water. My mom did wonderful things with potatoes as well. I loved her scalloped potatoes.

    • Me too, Darlene. Such deliciousness! Mum used to make scalloped potatoes too, though infrequently. I loved them too and remember eating them with meatloaf or venison. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  2. Mum’s and potatoes…..mine made lovely baked potatoes in their jackets then the potatoe scooped out and mashed with butter and corned beef then put back in the skin to brown the top. I used to love the crispy top or she made a mean cottage pie with the left over lamb from sunday roast topped with creamy mash and browned till crispy and golden..Thank you for invoking those memories 🙂

    • Carol, I love twice baked potatoes, but I’ve never had them with corned beef. Those sound fantastic! And the cottage pie is making my stomach growl and I just ate dinner. Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. I just read your blog today for the first time through Sally’s blog. Very funny post about the crab sandwiches. 🙂

      • Thank you…I do have a quirky side which comes out in my writing I can’t help myself…lol ..Yes and it was the tinned corn beef the English and the Americans version of corned beef is totally different we call the US corned beef salt beef 🙂 But in twice baked potatoes it mixes in just fine and it is lovely, in fact I could eat one just now..lol

  3. I’m grinning here, Molly. My dear 94 year-old mother would be quick to tell you that none of her three children would associate any type of food with her love. She isn’t fond of cooking and never has been. When a stranger (to her) called to say she was organizing a surprise baby shower for me and could Mom please bring a “dip,” my darling mother replied “I don’t do dips. Of any kind. I’ll bring wine.” Bless her. My sister and I adore cooking, on the other hand. You’ll have to ask the same question of my children and nieces and nephews. I’d wager they could come up with some favourites. I read your 2016 Mother’s Day piece too – and LOVED the story about the cranberries. Now here, we have some common ground. My mother would have responded in exactly the same way.
    Hope you were thoroughly spoiled on Mother’s Day!

    • I love your mother, Kelly! I love how she knows what she is good at and doesn’t pretend to fit into anyone else’s vision of what she should be or do. I like to cook too, but not under pressure, like for a shower. Then I am likely to respond like your mother! So glad you liked the story showing the feisty side of my mother. She was not having anything to do with those cranberries! My niece who offered them to her did an adorable needle point for her later in life with the word “Cranberries??” on it. I was spoiled on Mother’s Day and I hope you were too.

  4. We grew up with potatoes as a staple also. We had beans and potatoes nights weekly. I had that warm, fuzzy feeling of old memories wash over me while I was reading your post. My mother passed away 17 years ago – Thank you for giving me another reason to remember how wonderful she was.

  5. Wow, your mom could really cook up a spud! I LOVE white potatoes, but I eat fewer these days. My mom couldn’t cook much but she did make an amazing milk gravy from drippings and it was delish over potatoes!

    • She really could, Terri, and I even left a few out to keep the essay from going too long. She made a milk gravy occasionally too, and I never got into it. I couldn’t get past the color, since in my mind gravy needs to be a more earthy color. Like brown. LOL!

  6. I love this even more than I love potatoes and that’s a lot! What a sweet and clever tribute to your mum! She sounds as wonderful as her daughter. <3

    • Alas, Lee, Mum was as wonderful as a mother could be. But you know all about that, don’t you? She sure worked hard all her life and fed a lot of hungry people. Toward the end of her days she was so sick of cooking she did the minimum. But you can be sure she never made instant potatoes!

  7. Aw, what a sweet (and starchy!) tribute to your mother, Molly! Growing up, we had boiled potatoes with practically every meal (simply peeled, cut into chunks and boiled, then you’d mash ’em with a fork, spread butter over them, and season with salt and pepper). Occasionally, Mom would mix it up and bake them, and I can still remember scooping out the potato innards, then spreading the inside of the crispy skin with butter. Yum. No dinner (more often referred to as supper) was complete without potatoes! Thanks for this prompt for a trip down memory lane…

    • Yes, Roxanne we ate supper and not dinner too. And I still love eating the baked potato crusts with butter. What a treat! You know all about mashing your own plain boiled potatoes, too, since you shared my childhood experience at the supper table.

    • We have a donut store in Portland called Holy Donut and all they sell are potato donuts. They are the best! I don’t think Dunkin’ could perfect the recipe but you never know. I’d like to see them try, Anita. If you are ever in Portland, Maine, be sure to look up Holy Donuts!

    • Thank you Anna! My mother practiced ingenuity in the kitchen. I had to cut my essay short so I couldn’t include ricing potatoes or the way she would cook potatoes with a pork roast and brown them to perfection. Or they delicious chunks of potato in her venison or chicken stew. I loved my Mom and I love potatoes!

  8. My mother was a marvelous, Cordon Bleu certified cook, but my most vivid memories are primarily of the kid dinners. When I was young, my mother made potato salad like yours (Miracle Whip included) – as do I, many years later, since it reminds me of her.

    When asked what I wanted for my birthday dinner (the birthday person always got to choose), my brothers would groan because it was always the same: I LOVED her spaghetti with meat sauce, served with a green salad and hot garlic bread. Her omelets were truly divine as well, and we all loved it when she made thick-cut french fries to go with juicy hamburgers. Mashed potatoes and green beans (or peas) were served when oven fried chicken was on the menu.

    Interesting how our memories of our mothers are often brought back most readily with food, isn’t it?
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    • What lovely memories you share of your mother’s cooking Madelyn. My mother also made a very good spaghetti but she always made meatballs. She didn’t make it often but when she did I would eat so much my stomach would feel like it was going to bust! Mum made yummy omelets too, but she was renowned for her scrambled eggs that were cooked just right – not too wet but definitely not too dry. She always complained about restaurant scrambled eggs because they were too dry. Thank you for sharing the foods that remind you of your mother’s love.

  9. Mmmmmm…. I’ll take some of each. What a lovely tribute to your mother, Molly. Potatoes were a staple in our house too and I still like mine unadulterated so I can mash, cube, top etc. as I please. My mama was a great cook too! Happy Mother’s Day and Happy Memories… <3 xo

    • It is interesting how we Mainers grew up with the plain, boiled potato on the supper table, Bette. I rarely cook them that way myself and I must get back to this. We often cut them up and roast them and they are soooo good cooked that way too. Happy Mother’s Day to you too!

  10. Just yesterday I was bragging about Grammy Sade’s delectible donuts!
    I drooled all the way through your memories as many of mine were parallel…even my distaste for Saturday night baked beans. (I would fold mine into a slice of white bread slathered with French’s mustard to make them palatable…since beans were “what’s for supper”!)
    New potatoes with cream and peas still makes me cry with joy.
    Growing up in The County. How lucky for us!

    • Yes, Kim, beans were what’s for supper and my mother’s motto was ‘take it or make your own,’ so I choked them down too. I can’t get into how the mustard would have tasted with them but who knows? I might like it! I never liked ketchup on them like some people and later in life Mum and Dad added maple syrup to their beans when they ate them. I never could quite understand that either. Interesting you were talking about Grammie Sade’s potato donuts this week before reading this. We were indeed lucky to grow up in The County!

  11. Your spud story makes me happy, Molly! My favorite is mashed, but . . . MY mashed. I’m very particular about the consistency of foods (yeah, okay, fussy). So I don’t care for whipped potatoes or what I consider over-worked mashed potatoes. My own have some heft and carry some delicious little nugget-y lumps. Blanketed simply with gravy or butter, serving as the bed under a lightly pan-fried filet of fish, smothered with chicken a la king or tender bites of leftover pot roast swimming in mahogany beef gravy, mashed potatoes are ambrosia!

    • I agree with you Kate about the consistency. There were always lumps of potato in my mother’s mashed potatoes and I make sure they are present in mine too. And don’t get me started on butter and gravy! You have made me so hungry with your luscious descriptions. Yum!

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