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"Sewing Circles of Herat"
by Christina Lamb

July 8, 2008

The Potato Eaters

”What’s with you and Carol and potatoes?” Mmmm asked Sunday morning as I fixed hash browns for breakfast.

Niece Carol and I are potato eaters. We love potatoes fixed any old way: fried, French fried, boiled, mashed, baked, hash brown, as chips, steamed, scalloped, jackets on or jackets off, in stews, in soups or grilled. You fix them we will eat them. Carol says she could never go on the Atkins diet because she could never give up her potatoes.

Potatoes are good for you. Did you know that a potato contains more than twice the amount of potassium as a banana? They are not only good for you, they go with everything: roasts, fried foods, chicken, hamburgers, pork chops or fish. It wouldn’t seem like Thanksgiving at our house without a bowl of fluffy mashed potatoes sitting beside the turkey. Potatoes are the ultimate comfort food for me.

When I was a young girl on the farm, it was my job to tend to the very large potato patch. We would hitch up Brownie, the big, old, gentle work horse to the harrow. A harrow, as the Wikipedia tells us, is an agricultural implement consisting of many spikes, tines or discs dragged across the soil. The potatoes were planted so the harrow would fit between the rows and the weeds were kept down. I would follow Brownie back and forth as we worked the soil. Sometimes the harrow would overturn as we came to a corner and Brownie would wait patiently for me as I struggled to turn it right side up and we would continue until the field looked rich and brown again, free of weeds.

Potatoes are grown from cuttings of potatoes. A potato is cut into pieces, making sure that each piece has at least one “eye” in it. It is from these eyes that the plants sprouts and grow. Potato plants are pretty – dark green leaves with small white flowers with a yellow center. They are related to the tomato and the plants look somewhat like a tomato. The potatoes grow underground and are harvested in the fall unless one wants new potatoes in the spring. When they are about as big as large walnuts or so, they have tender, thin skins and are cooked with their jackets on and served with sweet young peas in a cream sauce. A perfect accompaniment would be small cucumbers and onions fresh from the garden. My mouth waters to think of it. One can dig potatoes all summer and early in the summer, the skins are thin. Then one can wash them in a bucket, half fill the bucket with water and, using the handle of an old broom, swirl them rapidly around in the water. The tender skins come off and one can finish taking the skins off by scraping them with a paring knife.

In the fall when the potatoes are full size and the plant starts to turn yellow, it is time to dig up the potatoes. One pulls up the plant and then uses a big garden fork to dig up all the potatoes. You pull up the plant and then carefully dig them up, being careful not to pierce them or cut them. They are allowed to dry a bit before they are stored since damp potatoes spoil. We used to take scrubbed potatoes to the one room school in the winter and roast them in the coals of the big round coal furnace. They were so good on a winter’s day. I love crispy baked potatoes, baked in a very hot oven and served with butter and salt and pepper. As Rachael Ray would say, “Yum-O.”

We have all heard of the great Irish Potato Famine of 1847 to 1849 or even 1852. It was devastating since potatoes, then as now, were a central part of the Irish diet. It was the lack of variety in the potato that contributed to the disaster. When a virus struck the crops, there were no varieties that could resist the disease and it was so widespread that about a million people died. A third of the population depended upon potatoes as the mainstay of their diet. It was about this time that many Irish people immigrated to the United States.

Vincent Van Gogh painted a picture called The Potato Eaters It is considered his first great painting and depicts peasants sitting at the table and eating potatoes. I would fit right in and enjoy those potatoes along with everyone else sitting around that rustic table.

David Grayson was the pen name of Ray Stannard Baker (April 17, 1870–July 12, 1946) an American journalist and author. He wrote: “Talk of joy: there may be things better than beef stew and baked potatoes and home-made bread - there may be.

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