Over at the resort, Hallie asked her Aunt Chris how to make hash browns. She knows better than to ask me -- her mother. At the age of nine I was chubbier than my mother liked and she asked a doctor to put me on a diet. At that time, fried foods were immediately dropped from the family diet, never to return. Among my food virtues, I eschew fried food. Among my food vices – well, you know.
Anyway, this isn’t exactly about hash browns, but it is about potatoes. My mother would slice potato into a frying pan, cook with a little onion, and when served, I remember the potatoes as delicious, but Mother never fixed them after the big diet began. Once I tried to fix potatoes this way after I was married with failing results. I never tried again.
Then I ran across a book some years back, Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm during the Great Depression, by Mildred Armstrong Kalish (Bantam Dell, 2007). I bless Mrs. Kalish for this book, which explains so many of my parents’ practices – just the way they managed life. In a chapter titled “Farm Food,” she included the following method for frying potatoes:
“In a large heavy-bottomed skillet – I recommend a cast-iron one – place two or three tablespoons of vegetable oil, heat to very hot, and add fresh, thinly sliced potatoes. Of course, on the farm we used tasty bacon fat. If you want to live dangerously, go ahead. Now sprinkle coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper on them. Stand by with a long-handled pancake turner. Don’t touch them until they are nicely browned on the bottom – about ten minutes. At this point, gently scoop the slices up and deposit them upside down into the skillet. When they are crisp and brown, serve immediately. These are a special treat.”
And there it was! -- Mother’s method of frying potatoes. And I agree with Mrs. Kalish – they were a special treat. I think the secret is to give them plenty of time to cook before turning. I suspect the bacon grease, which my parents also used in the ‘50s, is another secret.
We ate potatoes a lot as I grew up, most frequently boiled and mashed on one’s plate with butter, salt and pepper. I never boil a potato. Occasionally, Mother baked potatoes, which is my preferred method, and my dad boiled and mashed potatoes only for special occasions. Those were wonderful, too – real potatoes boiled and mashed smooth with real butter and perhaps a little cream. KW