In this modern-day-take-it-out-of-the-freezer-and shove-it-in-the-microwave world, we often lose sight of what real food tastes like. Not too surprising, when you look at the ingredient lists on most prepared foods. Many so-called foods have more chemicals than food ingredients. I figure if you can’t even pronounce half the ingredients, you shouldn’t rely on it as a major food source. On the other hand, just think about beef stew or chili simmering slowly through the day, ready to warm the cockles of your heart – not to mention your cold hands – come dinner time. Or home-made breakfast burritos or Cornish pasties, stored in the freezer for those mornings when you can barely find the kitchen, let alone think up a menu.
Old-fashioned cooks would have been horrified at the thought of wasting even a small scrap of food. Growing food took effort, and it had to be properly stored, managed while in storage, properly prepared and actually cooked. Carrot and celery peels, potato peelings, bits of celery and onion skins all went into the stockpot to simmer until every bit of flavor was cooked into the water. The resultant cooked veggie bits were strained out and fed to the chickens and pigs; old-fashioned cooks didn’t make compost with food scraps — they were too valuable. Leftovers were served at the next meal until completely eaten, or turned into creative new dishes, some of which have become culinary icons.
People who lived through the Great Depression often have strong memories of eating a lot of potatoes. Potatoes were a particularly valuable resource: easy to grow, productive, could be stored through the winter without canning or drying, and extremely versatile. In addition, they made great leftovers. Chopped cooked potatoes could be turned into hash with the addition of a little chopped onion and some leftover roast meat, fried on their own, or mixed with eggs, cheese and scallions for a baked casserole. Mashed potatoes really took the prize when it came to versatility, though, partly because there are so many things you can do with leftover mashed potatoes. For example, potato pancakes (fancied up to “croquettes” for Sunday dinner), cream of potato soup, potato bread and rolls, gnocchi, breakfast egg cups (mashed potatoes in a Pyrex dish with an egg baked in a depression on top), shepherd’s pie, even cake. A little bit of mashed potato made a good thickening agent for gravies, soups or stews.
Here are a couple of leftover mashed potato recipes:
Cream of Potato Soup
2 or 3 cups of mashed potatoes
1-2 Tbs butter
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
½ large onion in small dice
1 Tbs finely chopped parsley
Cream (amount will vary depending on how runny the potatoes are and how thick you want your soup)
Salt and pepper to taste
Saute the onion and celery in butter until soft; add a little water if necessary, as you don’t want them to brown. Mix about 1 cup cream into the onion and celery and use an immersion blender to puree them (or leave them in chunks if you want). Continue to add cream until the soup is the desired texture. Stir in parsley, add salt and pepper. You could sprinkle a little shredded cheese on top — cheddar and Parmesan are both good choices. To turn this into colcannon soup, saute about 2 cups chopped green cabbage or kale with the onion and celery. Make potato cheese soup by adding a cup of grated cheese to the finished soup. Other good additions: chopped cooked bacon, chicken, turkey or ham; cooked corn kernels; scallions or cooked broccoli.
Potato Refrigerator Bread
1 cup mashed potatoes
2/3 cup butter or lard
3 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 cup whole milk, scalded, then cooled to lukewarm
5 to 6 cups bread flour, sifted
Cream mashed potatoes with butter or lard, salt and sugar. Dissolve the yeast in the water, then stir in milk. Add yeast mixture to potato mixture, mix well. Add flour, mixing well after each cup, to make a stiff dough. Knead the dough on a well-floured board until smooth, about six to eight minutes. Put the dough in a well-greased bowl and turn to coat. Let rise until double, about one to one-and-half hours, then punch down. At this point you can shapes loaves or rolls, or cover and refrigerate up to a week. Let the shaped loaves or rolls rise until doubled — about 45 minutes for rolls and one hour for loaves. Brush tops with melted butter and bake rolls at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Bake the loaves at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes.