Dough Potatoes

My father was seventeen years old when the stock market crashed in October of 1929.  He told me that Grandpa Rang lost all the money he had saved from twenty years of farming except for the last couple of milk checks that he had deposited in a bank that survived the collapse.  With cows and chickens and a big garden, the family had enough to eat, but clothes, hardware and other “store-bought” things were precious.

Women and girls mended clothing, darned socks, and turned flour sacks into dish towels, pillow cases, dresses and curtains–often embroidered with flowers or geometric patterns.  Men and boys made tools, repaired equipment and salvaged anything they could.  My father and mother passed on those frugal ways to their offspring.

For instance, the second carpentry job I learned was how to straighten nails.  The first was how to bend them, but that was self-taught.  Today I still find myself reusing nails and saving wood scraps.  

Before I left home for college, Mom taught me how to sew on buttons and stitch up a seam, and she gave me a patching kit with some needles and spools of thread.  This spring I actually sewed on a button when I was spending a few days by myself at the cabin.  It is still on my fishing pants, which seem to be getting smaller.

People didn’t waste food either.  Leftovers were saved and either warmed up and served again or used as ingredients in another dish.  Here is an example.  We called it “dough potatoes.”  It’s not fancy–just leftover potatoes and onions fried in a thin batter of eggs, flour and milk–but made with a baked potato and served with ketchup, it is a good example of northern European comfort food.

Dad sometimes made this simple dish when Mom was not home to cook dinner.  My sister Barb thinks that he learned the recipe from his mother, so it might have originated in Germany.  If so, I may have eaten it at Grandma and Grandpa’s the year I lunched with them when we had lost our good cook at Blair School.

Anyway, here is how to make Dough Potatoes

INGREDIENTS:

1 leftover baked potato (1 to 1 1/2 cups when sliced)
1/4 cup onion
3 T flour
2/3 cup milk
4 large eggs
1 scant tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 T butter, vegetable oil or bacon grease

PROCEDURE:

Peel the potato, cut it lengthwise into quarters and slice 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.  Chop the onion medium fine.  Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the potato and onion until they begin to brown.

While the vegetables are frying, beat the eggs until lemon yellow.  Add the milk, flour, salt and pepper and mix well until you have a thin batter.  Pour the batter over the potatoes and onions and stir continuously until the batter begins to set.  Reduce the heat to very low, cover the pan and cook until done, about 3 minutes.

Dough potatoes are rather bland, so make sure that ketchup, salt and pepper are on the table.

NOTES:  You can use leftover boiled potatoes, but baked potatoes give a better flavor, at least to our tastes.   Once the eggs are nearly done, you can use a spatula to turn them over so the bottom does not get too brown.

Perfect Popovers

In a certain sense, making popovers is a test of faith: You put the batter-filled pan in the oven and pray that the popovers will do their thing in the next 40 minutes.    I have been making these scrumptious muffins since I was a teenager.

Sometimes they were wonderful–standing tall and proud.  More often they looked liked something trying with only limited success to look like popovers.  On some memorable occasions (usually when we had friends over for breakfast) my popovers were rubbery little sponges hunkering down in the pan.

Months without popovers would pass after such failures, but as the poet said, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast”, and after enjoying a particularly delicious popover at a restaurant or fair I would tell myself that my memory was wrong:  No one could screw up a recipe that had only five ingredients.  And so I would try again and sometimes succeed.

I remember making two batches in a row that were beautiful.  But when my mother came to visit and I announced that we would have an afternoon snack of popovers with butter and jam, the jinx returned.  “Oh Chuckie, they taste just fine,” said Mom, but one of the kids remarked that they didn’t look like popovers.  To make matters worse, motivated by my two successes, I had just bought a popover pan.

I finally tackled the problem systematically, and for the last twenty years I have never had a popover failure.  Since it took me 30 years to figure out the secret to the perfect popover, I feel relieved, not proud.

There are two parts to the secret:  First, the eggs and milk must be at WARM room temperature;  70 degrees is too cool.   Second, don’t beat the batter too long.  I know that many expert chefs say to beat the batter for 20 or 30 seconds.  It must work for them and it may work for you, but don’t blame me if you get sponge cake instead of popovers.

This recipe makes enough batter for a six-cup popover pan.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup plus 1 T flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup plus 1 T milk
2 tsp. vegetable oil
3 large eggs

PROCEDURE:

Make sure that the baking rack in your oven is in or slightly below the center position.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Grease the popover pan lightly and place it in the oven to heat.

While the oven is heating, put the eggs in a small bowl and cover them with very warm water from the tap.  Let them sit for at least 5 minutes.  Warm the milk on the range or in the microwave until it feels slightly warm to the touch.

Stir the flour and salt together in a lipped 1 quart measuring cup or bowl.  Add the warm milk, oil and eggs and beat the batter with an electric mixer for 11 seconds (NO MORE) on high.  Stop and stir slowly with a fork to mix in any remaining large dry clumps.  Small lumps are OK.

Take the hot pan from the oven and fill the cups evenly; they should be 1/2 to 2/3 full.  Put the pan into the hot oven, turn the heat down to 425 degrees and bake 20 minutes, then 20 minutes at 350 degrees.  DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DURING BAKING.  PERIOD.

Remove the pan from the oven, let it cool for 15 or 20 seconds, remove the popovers from the pan and serve them while still hot.  Give each popover a gentle twist to loosen it.  A table knife works to loosen stubborn popovers.  If you want, cut a small slit in the side of each popover to release the steam.

NOTES:  The eggs and milk must be warm.  The oven door must remain closed during the entire baking period.  Have faith.  They will pop.  You can make popovers in an ordinary muffin pan, but they don’t pop as high.

Besides eating popovers with butter and honey, jam or jelly, we also like to fill them with scrambled eggs.

A batch of popovers fresh from the oven