Friday, May 8, 2009

Potatoes: Steaphanie Crain


I chose the 250 Ways of Serving Potatoes (1940) cookbook because I love potatoes, I love that there was an entire cookbook devoted to it, and I thought this book held my best chance to quickly find a recipe that was easy and goof-proof. I was wrong.

Housewives in the 1950’s took their potatoes seriously. The booklet is divided into more categories (with sufficient recipes for each category to warrant their own category) than I consciously knew existed for potatoes. Baked, boiled, soups/chowders, creamed and scalloped, mashed, fried, salads, sweet potatoes listed separately…these ladies knew their potatoes. And now I know how American families could have potatoes with every meal.

I quickly dismissed all potatoes sweet and anything that involved multiple steps, such as fried potato cups filled with hotdogs. And then I landed on the Potato with Bacon recipe and looked no further. How can you possibly make a potato better? Bacon.

The ingredient list was very common:

1 lb. of bacon
6 medium potatoes
2 tbs. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
2 cups milk

I assumed that the bacon measurements were for cooked weight. Since I don’t have a kitchen scale, and am a firm believer that more bacon always makes things more better, I cooked an entire one pound package, after trimming the most visible fat and dicing the remaining bacon (which was kind of difficult but made me feel chef-y).

I also assumed that they didn’t mean skim or soy milk, so I used full-fat milk, and I tripled the pepper amount.

I layered the sliced potatoes, topped with the flour, salt and pepper and the bacon, repeated the layers, and poured milk over the whole thing.

It looked disgusting:
My greatest fear was that it would come out of the oven as nothing more than clumps of raw flour with bits of greasy bacon gristle-studded potatoes floating in curdled milk.

I popped it into a moderate oven (thankfully, they defined “moderate” as 350º), covered, for 45 minutes. When I took the pan out to uncover for the remaining 15 minutes in a desperate attempt to brown the top and make it look a little less like something they serve at Shady Pines retirement home on Wednesday nights, I was saddened to see that a milky skin had formed on the top of the potatoes, and there was a LOT of milk still swishing around. Happily, though, it looked like the flour islands had melted and incorporated themselves into the dish. Things were looking up for this dish!

And then down. The top didn’t brown, but the potatoes were soft, and I didn’t want to add insult to injury and overcook them. So I took them to the party with the attitude that this was an exercise in culinary experimentation, and not all experiments succeed. Clearly.

The potatoes were served about an hour into the party, and I am thrilled to report that they didn’t suck! They had been warming in the oven, and I’m not sure if it was the extra heat that thickened the milk into a sauce, or if it was just the resting period. The potatoes were tender, the bacon was semi-crunchy, and the milk sauce was a nice consistency. I was surprised that the dish was more sweet than savory, and if I made it again, I would up the salt and pepper. And maybe add some cheese.

I was told the potatoes were great the next day for breakfast, which made me very happy. And validated my earlier hypothesis that 1950’s housewives really knew their potatoes.

(editor's note: This was so fantastic the next morning, you can't even know. A big ole' platefull and a cup 0' joe. Awsome.)

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