Economic times being what they are and our hoped-for recovery taking its own sweet time has people looking longingly back at "the good old days." I guess I'm no exception. This week I received a cookbook from the history society in the county where I grew up. It was a wonderful read, full of stories and recipes from families that shared a common history with my own.
Thinking of poverty in the US and around the world, the needs of those in areas that have been devastated by natural disasters or even disasters of our own making, inspires me to try to do more with less. I want to save and to give. I hope to brighten my own corner of this weary world.
Even as we continue to face economic challenges in this country, partisan discourse seems to have taken a turn for the worse. Turning on a television or radio seems to invite a stream of name-calling and accusation against either the left or the right into the middle of my daily routine. I'm not too sure I fall neatly on either side and end up feeling offended by both. I retreat to my study of beans and raisins and try to hold my tongue while looking for some peace with the world.
Reading my home county's history society cookbook with stories and food lore from decades past lends me a sense of that peace. The stories told are of men and women working hard to grow a business, run a farm, build a church, feed a family and to make ends meet. Meanwhile it seems they were not too busy to share a little something of themselves and their experiences.
Interestingly those stories tend to be tales of success rather than woe. In retrospect many sad stories have a silver lining. These people learned from their struggles and took lessons from hard times into the future.
Reading up on the history of my hometown I was reacquainted with Virginia who shares a story from her childhood where the family tried to add a leaf to their table for unexpected guests and the table ended up collapsing in the middle. Instead of crying over the disaster they retrieved what they could and shared it with their guests forever remembering with a smile the time they "spread their welcome too far and were thankful to do it."
If you need to cook fish for sixty you might want to read about Al's recipe for Fried Fish and fixins. He had learned to cook fish when the church needed repairs but the budget fell short of providing for them. He and some of the men at the church decided to put on an old fashioned Fish Fry to raise the money needed to complete the repairs. The event was so popular that they made it a regular fundraiser to provide for various church projects.
Or listen to Ruth tell you about the Great Depression when almost every farmer in the county grew acres of potatoes. These fields were harvested as a community affair, with children as young as eight or ten pitching in. People used what they had and ate those potatoes with every meal. She adds, "Times were tough, but I think that made us tougher" as she offers a recipe for German Potato Salad, a recipe she got from her husband's mother; one that had been passed down through the generations.
The stories and recipes are interspersed with photographs, with people from times past standing in fields, lined up in front of churches or school buildings or around picnic tables, smiling. Their words offer a fond reminder of how they managed to make do with what they had, stretch it to do a little bit more and and still forged happy memories with family and friends in the process.
Hot German Potato Salad
2 – 3 pounds small potatoes (I used Yukon Gold)
1½ teaspoons flour
4 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ cup vinegar
½ cup water
½ cup diced bacon
¾ cup minced onion (I used Walla Walla Sweet Onion)
¼ cup fresh parsley, minced
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
½ teaspoon ground red pepper (optional)
Cook the unpeeled potatoes, in a pot filled with one inch or so of boiling water, until just tender. Remove from heat and run under cold water until comfortable to handle. Peel away the skin and cut the potatoes into ½ inch slices.
While the potatoes are cooking, combine the flour, sugar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk in the vinegar and water until combined. Set aside.
Fry the diced bacon in a small skillet until crisp. Add ½ cup onion to the skillet and continue cooking until tender. Add the vinegar mixture and stir over low heat until it simmers and slightly thickens.
Pour the warm dressing over the warm potatoes. Add the parsley, celery seed and red pepper, if desired. Toss to combine.
Notes: The recipes for German Potato Salad in the cookbooks from my hometown usually include celery seed. Still, you might want to substitute a tablespoon of your favorite mustard for the celery seed and/or the red pepper I added. You could also substitute chopped chives for the parsley in the recipe if you prefer. I think it might also be nice to try using pepper bacon in the recipe.
Serve and enjoy!