When I've got the blues or I'm nursing a bad case of the flu, any one of these dishes can bring back pleasant memories of days gone by, when life was simpler and someone else did the cooking. That someone was usually my mother or grandmother who made everything "from scratch." As a child, no boxed, instant potatoes lived in our home pantry. When I think of potatoes, I can recall my mother scrubbing the heavy dirt off the thick skin, peeling and boiling them in a large steamy pot, then mashing them with lots of milk and butter to create mashed potatoes.
Potatoes are the fourth largest world fresh food crop, just behind rice, wheat and corn. In more agricultural times, potatoes were popular because they were easy to grow, readily available and inexpensive. Whether they were baked, mashed or casseroled - and most of our mothers knew at least a dozen different ways to prepare them - potatoes were a steady companion to whatever meat, poultry or fish and vegetable dish being served at the dinner table.
Potatoes offer a variety of important vitamins, minerals and fiber but they are also well known for their carbohydrate content. In recent times, with our rigorous avoidance of carbs, potatoes are no longer a staple of every household. Now, we tend to sneak potatoes into our diets with fast-food fries and breakfast hash browns. But, during the holiday seasons, potatoes get an annual revival. In fact, they hold a place of honor in the culinary homage to holiday tradition - representing the supreme "comfort food" and evoking memories of good times and good people from our past.
Some time before year's end, I predict that you will indulge in at least one scrumptiously delicious potato dish - Aunt Sally's mashed potatoes, Granny's potato latkes, Nana's potatoes au gratin, Uncle George's scalloped potatoes or even your own super-loaded baked potato. Whatever the style, I invite you to totally savor the dish, not fretting the calories or carbs as you partake. Instead, let the soothing flavors and steamy smells take you back to a younger, thinner, less-stressed you and help you conjure up a few nostalgic memories of holidays gone by.
I'm also predicting that the dining experience will be worth the extra carb intake and the memory will join your "database" of special holiday gatherings you have known. And if you don't have a favorite potato recipe, adopt the one here and serve it as a holiday gift to someone you love.
Jacqui lives in Danville with her pug, Nina Simone, and volumes of cookbooks and recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at email@example.com.
Potato-Onion Gratin (serves 6)