The Power of Potatoes

A piece from 2004, when my dad was making regular mission trips to Albania and Kosovo.

There’s something about potatoes. In spite of all the healthy people who tell you not to eat potatoes because of the high carb count, or that they’re bad because they have no color to them, we’re drawn to them.

Scientific people and dietitians have done studies about the level of seratonin, a chemical that improves your mood, in your brain, and they say that potatoes raise the seratonin level. I think that’s a fancy way of saying they’re “comfort food.”

Mike loves them in any most any form — mashed, salad, baked — and will experiment with different ways to dress them up. He likes them cut up with some milk and butter and cooked in the microwave. Then he adds dill pickle relish and sour cream.

Sophie the dog likes french fries. She has to have some to calm her down whenever she goes anywhere in the car. The minute we turn into any drive-through, she settles down and takes her spot where she can receive her treat. We wait until the fries are cool enough (that is, whenever we get fries that are actually warm to begin with) and give them to her one or two at a time. From then on, she behaves fairly well in the car.

Lots of people have fond potato memories from growing up. It might be an aunt’s potato salad brought to picnics, or Mama’s mashed potatoes that went with any Sunday dinner.

But nothing seems to stir memories like fried potatoes. I found this out while working on a family cookbook. My dad especially has lots of good memories of his mother and fried potatoes.

For the cookbook, he told me the specific way she sliced them, and how she’d let the grease get hot while she was cutting them up. Then he told how the potatoes would crackle and pop when she poured them in the hot grease, and how the smell would fill the house.

“Mom had trouble keeping her boys out of the potatoes while she was frying them. She’d have to tell them ‘Stay out of that. That’s for dinner.’” Then he’d tell how their faces would light up when she poured the hot, fried potatoes in her old bowl.

“Mom cooked for about 70 years. She raised 10 children and usually there were at least five to 10 people at every meal, three meals a day. No matter what else was going on in her life with her kids or grandkids, Mom cooked. There were probably times when her heart was breaking, but she still had people to feed. She probably made enough biscuits, gravy and fried potatoes to fill a house.”

Right now, my dad is in Pogradec, Albania, doing mission work. Albania was under communist rule for decades, and has only been out of it for 13 or so years now, so living conditions are different from what we’re used to. The electricity is undependable. It might be on for a few hours, then will shut down for who knows how long.

Walking is the most common means of transportation, but if you do take a bus or taxi somewhere, just count on it breaking down.

It is winter there now, and Pogradec is a mountain town, so it’s cold. And my dad is 74 years old. He doesn’t hear or see like he used to. We got this e-mail from him this weekend.

“One brief sort of unusual story, not a complaint, about living conditions. After work. After dark. Electricity off. Internets not operating. About a mile from the house. Sleeting.

“A restaurant had a generator going. Ordered potato soup — was good but no potatoes. As I was leaving, the waiter brought a big plate of hot fried potatoes. Then all my other problems seemed to disappear — for a while anyway. Another wonder of fried potatoes, or of the Lord?”

Potatoes — comfort food in any language.

2 thoughts on “The Power of Potatoes

  1. As always, enjoyed this story…your Dad is an amazing man! You all have a Happy Easter together, and tell everyone I said “hello”! Love, Julie Hope Mike is still doing well…

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