Monday, August 10, 2009

Please welcome my friend author Mary Welk. Mary is a retired ER Nurse with a wicked sense of humor and several wonderful books and short stories. She does have a story in the Missing Anthology with her series character Caroline Rhodes. You can learn more about Mary at Enjoy! - Amy

Memories can sometimes trick you. You think you remember an event as clear as day, but then you find yourself recalling it in the company of those who shared in the event, and their memories of it are quite different.

So it goes with my memory of the day my mother upgraded from “how it was always done” to “the wonders of modern technology”. I’m talking cooking here, and in particular, the creation of that wonderful dish called potato pancakes.

Back when I was growing up, my mother’s ‘Friday night special’ during Lent was always potato pancakes. Thin and crispy, and served with hefty helpings of applesauce and cottage cheese, those palm-sized delights disappeared from our plates faster than my mother could fry them. We kids ate them with gusto, knowing full well that when Lent ended, we could expect grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup or baked mac and cheese casserole for our meatless Friday dinners. Potato pancakes were a pain to prepare, a Lenten penance for my mom whose fingertips came into contact with her hand-led grater as often as did the potatoes. It wasn’t unusual to hear her mutter, “Never again” as she dropped the grater in the sink and dashed to the bathroom for bandages.

“Never again” came soon enough for my Catholic family when our church abolished the requirement to go meatless on Fridays except during Lent. My mom quickly decided we could make do with fish or cheese pizza for those four or five weeks preceding Easter. As for her Lenten penance, she’d much rather give up chocolate than skin.

Thus, the lowly grater was consigned to the back of a kitchen cabinet, removed only to shred cabbage for an occasional dish of coleslaw. My sister and I, though, never forgot the wonderful taste of potato pancakes. One Christmas, while shopping for our parents, we came across a Hamilton Beach blender on sale at a local store. I recall the look of triumph we exchanged when we read the advertising on the side of the box and discovered this blender could chop, grate, or grind any vegetable known to man, including potatoes.

Ah ha! We had found the solution to our potato pancakes problem! Quicker than you could say ‘Uncle!’, we pooled our money and bought that blender. And this is where my memories differ from my sister’s. She claims that Mom used that blender within minutes of unwrapping it, and the first thing she made with it was a cocktail called a Golden Peacock. I don’t remember that at all, but I do remember that we never lacked for potato pancakes again. Mom just diced the potatoes, threw them in the blender, and voila! Instant grated potatoes ready to be mixed with the other ingredients and fried to perfection on a hot skillet.

And now I give you my mother’s recipe for potato pancakes, the one she got from her mother and the one I still use today, although updated with the addition of a blender.

Potato Pancakes (serves four)

6 white potatoes, preferably Idahos, peeled, diced, and placed in cold water for at least one hour (better longer), then drained.

Place in blender:
1 egg
1 slice onion per potato
¼ tsp. salt per potato

Gradually add potatoes to above ingredients and blend on high until you have a smooth batter.

Pour batter into bowl and add 1 rounded tablespoon of flour for each potato used. Mix well.

Fry in very hot oil until crispy, turning once as pancakes brown. Drain on paper towels before serving.

These pancakes are thin and crispy and taste wonderul served with applesauce and cottage cheese or sour cream.


Terry Odell said...

How very similar to our own latkes, eaten in our household at Chanukah. Grating the potatoes was the motivation behind buying my first food processor. The blender tended to make a 'batter', while the food processor allowed for those nice shreds.

Thanks for sharing. My family 'ratio' was 1 onion and 1 egg per 4 potatoes.

And, speaking of food -- we're off to see Julie and Julia!

Deborah Sharp said...

What a delightful blog ... stopped by to read the guest post by Mary, who I just met on Cozy Armchair and look forward to seeing at Killer Nashville this week. If you bring the potato pancakes, I'll bring the applesauce!
( And the pancakes are a tradition in my Protestant family, too ... so three religions now heard from).

Morgan Mandel said...

What a great memory to have. Thanks for sharing, Mary.

If I ever get ambitious, I'll have tgo try making potato pancakes. I know the DH does like them at restaurants. I'm just not a kitchen person at heart, but once in a while I get inspired, especially if it's something easy.

Morgan Mandel

Eileen said...

I still use a grater. :-) (Hate cleaning blenders and food processors.) I also make potato pancakes with leftover mashed potatoes mixed in with the grated potato, onion, egg & flour. Sometimes I freeze them individually; they fry up quickly, even if still frozen.

Deb Baker said...

These sound great. I love potatoes all ways.

Pam Ripling said...

Memories! My mom used to make the kind you're talking about, usually with left over mashed po's. She used green onion, too.

Now the shredded kind... we eat latkes with our very close Jewish friends every Hanukkah. With applesauce, sour cream and blintzes! Yum.

Thanks, Mary!


Mary Welk said...

Terry, latkes and potato pancakes are the same thing, with latke being the Yiddish word for them. It's a common dish in Eastern Europe for people of all religions, becoming popular decades ago among poorer people and farm families in Europe. Potatoes were cheap back then and kept well in root cellars, making them ideal for winter meals when there were no fresh vegetables and often little meat available. From what I've read, the Yiddish word 'latke' is derived from a Ukranian word that owes its existence to a Greek word meaning 'olive'. That all ties in with the olive oil the Maccabees used to light the menorah and the tradition of eating foods fried in oil, especially olive oil, at Chanukah. My ancestors on both my parents' sides came from farming communities in Germany, so potato pancakes were well known to them.

And BTW, I saw Julie and Julia last night with my husband and we both loved it!

Mary Welk said...

Deborah, I wonder if we could even find potato pancakes in a Southern restaurant?? I doubt the folks at Killer Nashville will loan us a kitchen in which to make them. :)

Mary Welk said...

You two ought to try making them, Morgan and Deb. They're delicious if done right and not puffed out with baking soda.

Somehow using leftover mashed potatoes never seemed right to me, Pam and Eileen, but I know of folks who do that and enjoy them. As for me, I'll stick with newly grated potatoes. :)

Helen K said...

They are exactly like the potato pancakes that I had growing up - I am soooo hungry just reading about them & the picture is exactly right. I am sure that we had them for Lent also.

After I got married my husband became the potato grater for which I was very grateful (pun intended). More recently my daughter grated some potatoes and made the pancakes for me. I cannot remember what my mother (& grandmother) used to cook them in - maybe Crisco.

Now if only I could get someone to fix potato dumplings with sauerbraten!

Terry Odell said...

Mary, I do know that latkes are pototo pancakes; my comment referred to the similarity of your recipe with mine. No respecting 'latke' would be made with mashed potatoes, so that was more of what I was referring to. :-)

And they're a holiday tradition out of Europe, where potatoes were in abundance. More desert regions made pancakes from cheese for Chanukah, because that was what they had. It's all about the oil, which is what the holiday celebrates.

And we loved J/J too!

mary kennedy said...

This brought back memories! I can't wait to try the potato pancakes, they look delish. I remember Barbara Walters said in one of her books that she served potato pancakes at a dinner party once--they were interesting and retro and everyone loved them. Mary Kennedy

Mary Welk said...

"More desert regions made pancakes from cheese for Chanukah, because that was what they had. It's all about the oil, which is what the holiday celebrates."

I knew YOU knew what latkes were, Terry, but wasn't sure everyone else did, which is why I explained it maybe too thoroughly.

Thanks for telling us about the cheese latkes. I never knew about those. I read about the Miracle of the Oil. Wonderful how traditions grow out of our history, isn't it?

Amy said...

I think this is my most commented upon posting in 3 years! Just for fun, I will try to find variations of potato pancakes in my old cookbooks. No prunes, I promise!

Mrs. U said...

Hi there!
I LOVE this recipe you've shared! What a great idea for it all to be in the blender!!!! I'll definitely have to try this soon!

Mrs. U

Margot Justes said...

Back in the olden days when I used to cook, I made them. Now, when I get a craving I go to a Polish grocery story and pay for them.

Margot Justes

Mary Welk said...

Do try the recipe, Mrs. U. It's really simple, and the pancakes are delicious!

You BUY them in a grocery store, Margot? Already made? Hmmm. Didn't know they were available that way. Well, that's convenient, but I think I'll stick to the homemade kind. :)

Mary, thanks for telling us about Barbara Walters serving potato pancakes. Bet she didn't make them herself! :)

Mary Welk said...

Amy, thanks for letting me blog on your site. I enjoyed it! Some day I'd like to return to talk about my mom's favorite cookbook, the one that contained a recipe for squirrel stew. No, she never made it, but if I ever catch the squirrel that ate all the best fruit on my peach tree....

I also have a super recipe for cold plum soup. It's a wonderful summer dish that fits well with a salad and homemade rolls for a light dinner. I'll have to send you that one.