A Note from Maria: I’ve made the offer to several people to guest-post here on Mangia, Figlie. Finally, we have a taker – my husband, Dave, who writes about his signature recipe, passed down from his mother. “Grama,” as we all called her, died a little over a year ago at the respectable age of 94. Here, Dave reminisces:
I remember my mother’s dinners when I was growing up as mostly one-pot meals that were hearty, delicious, and comforting. One of my favorites was her made-from-scratch potato soup. How much better could it get than to have a wonderful bowl of her soup one night, and — knowing her tendency to make too much — to enjoy it again the next day, after the flavors had even more time to meld?
One day back in middle school, we had a substitute teacher. As was always the case, we tried our best to get the “sub” off lesson plan, to avoid actually doing any real schoolwork. Part of that day’s discussion: this teacher had committed to living the remainder of his life potato-soup-free! When I heard this, I questioned the school nurse’s earlier assertion that my hearing test had come back okay.
The sub explained that, while growing up in the Great Depression, he’d been forced to dine on potato soup one too many times, and he upheld his promise that, once economically able, he’d never eat it again. He told us of his belief — which proved him delusional, at least to me — that potato soup was something you ate only when you had to … only when forced to by tough economic times that were to be left behind and forgotten as soon as possible.
Considering my age, this was like telling me he’d been “forced” to open too many Christmas presents as a child … and that now I should feel both sympathy for his past sufferings, while also commending him for his steadfast refusal to go back on his own promise to himself. Frankly, I thought he was crazy.
I mentioned this incident to my mother, both to see if she could make any sense of it and also as a casual way to bring up potato soup … to see if I could get her to subliminally realize that it might be a good time to make, you guessed it, more potato soup.
Mom said that some other Pennsylvania Dutch cooks made a variant of potato soup with bacon fat in the rivels instead of eggs. She referred to this as “brown potato soup” and told me it was to be avoided at all costs. Thus, Mom concluded, this teacher was obviously a poor, misguided soul who’d never experienced the joys of “real” potato soup, like she made — hence his aversion to and lack of appreciation for something both thrifty ... and delicious.
Did I mention that no meal passed from my mother’s stove to our table without her knowing exactly how much each of our portions cost … and how much we were saving by not purchasing the same meal at the local diner? Yes, my mom may have been a tad bit miserly, but in her defense, she and my dad never had a mortgage, financed a car, or had a credit card. Instead, they both worked hard in their respective factories and saved up cash before they bought anything.
Even in better times, my mother never stopped making potato soup — thank you, God — not only because we all loved it, but also because she wanted to remember that even though the house, its contents, and our car were paid for and there were a few bucks in the bank ... all my parents’ hard work would somehow be for naught if they were to forsake where they came from, let their guard down, and start squandering what they’d saved. In today’s world, that is a lesson for us all.
Grama’s Potato Soup
(Click here to view
and print recipe)