Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Food: Recipes, cookbook reviews, food notes, and restaurant reviews. Unless otherwise noted, I have personally tried each recipe that gets its own page, but not necessarily recipes listed as part of a cookbook review.

Buttery foil-baked potatoes for National Potato Day

Jerry Stratton, August 18, 2021

National Potato Day is tomorrow. And it’s a great day to grill. Here’s a simple foil-wrapped potato and onion recipe for the grill or the oven.

Servings: 4
Preparation Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 4 potatoes cut into four crosswise slices
  • 1 large onion sliced into twelve slices
  • Any other vegetables you feel like
  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Steps

  1. Butter the top of each potato slice.
  2. Put the potatoes back together with an onion slice between each piece.
  3. Secure the reassembled potatoes with toothpicks or a skewer.
  4. Salt and pepper them to taste.
  5. Wrap each potato tightly in heavy foil.
  6. Bake at 375° for 60-65 minutes or until done.
Potato and onion bake

The potato and onion bake as it appears in the cookbook: just potato, onion, butter, and salt/pepper.

Tomorrow is National Potato Day. Among the various national food days, few truly deserve the honor. But the potato has been a savior of humanity since the Spanish and English embraced it in the sixteenth century. What had been a staple of Peru and had spread throughout South America became a citizen of the world and a hero of the working classes.

If it weren’t for the potato, we’d still be relying on rutabagas and turnips for our root vegetables. There’s nothing wrong with those vegetables, but they’re more work to prepare, they spoil more quickly, and they’re not as nutritious. And they’re not nearly as versatile, especially without the wonderful tools in modern kitchens.

It’s so difficult to imagine life without potatoes that most fantasy role-playing games, ostensibly drawing from pre-Age of Discovery European medievalism, still feature potatoes extensively in the ubiquitous taverns where adventurers meet.1

The potato is especially identified with the Irish, who pioneered the potato as a staple crop.

Potatoes were cheap and convenient, not to mention hearty. Nearly the perfect food, potatoes are loaded with protein, vitamins and complex carbohydrates. Infant mortality plummeted and the Irish grew bigger, stronger and healthier. Soon the Irish towered in physical stature over their rural English counterparts who subsisted on bread.

Potato, onion, and jalapeño bake

A slightly glorified potato and onion bake, with carrot and jalapeño added.

Before the potato, the Irish ate a lot of oat porridge; I love oatmeal, but in baking, not as gloop. It’s no wonder the Irish took to the potato as soon as they could.

The potato can be baked, boiled, fried, puréed, and mixed with herbs, meats, other vegetables, or dairy to make dishes from the simple to the profound—and often combining the two. It takes to just about any spice you throw at it. It can even be a pasta, a bread, and a dessert.

National Potato Day is not an official day; it joins the ranks of national days created not by government fiat but by corporate hacks and pajama-wearing bloggers creating a day that people want to enjoy. Like the Sandwich and the lovely Pie, the Potato’s celebratory day is one of the few such days that catch the imagination of the country.

That National Potato Day immediately precedes H.P. Lovecraft’s birthday is probably unrelated, despite the resemblance of potatoes to Shoggoths.

For my own inaugural potato day recipe, I’m providing a simple but very versatile foil-wrapped buttery dish. You can make this potato bake in the oven or on a grill. I wouldn’t be surprised if it works great in a slow-cooker as well. The basic recipe requires merely one potato per person, three onion slices per potato, and some butter. It requires no spices other than salt and pepper. You can add garlic, carrots, bell peppers, hot peppers, anything you enjoy roasted along with potato and that can handle about an hour of baking.

Better Homes and Gardens Vegetable Cook Book

If you’re looking for good old-school vegetable recipes, this Better Homes & Gardens volume is a great choice.

It’s a great way of using up the handful of vegetables left in your refrigerator bin. I did just that before leaving on a long trip several weeks ago; I had two potatoes, part of an onion, a jalapeño, and a carrot left in my vegetable bin. They turned out to be a great addition to the potatoes and onions.

I found the basic recipe in the Better Homes & Gardens Vegetable Cook Book as Potato and Onion Bake. It’s a 1965 cookbook2 that focuses on simple uses for vegetables. There is a carrot Lyonnaise and a dilly green beans recipe in the book that are also among my go-to recipes for standard vegetable dishes.

The only difficult part of this recipe is putting the potato back together again after slicing it. I use two or three toothpicks. A short skewer should also work. After that, all you need is patience.

If you want, you can sprinkle it with parsley when done, and/or put the opened foil packages back in the oven for a few minutes to brown the tops of the vegetables. I have never done either of these.

August 17, 2022: Paprikás Burgonya (Potato Paprika Stew)
Potato Paprika Stew

Serve with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt.

Clearly, paprika is an ingredient that has to be well understood for best results… Pseudo-knowledge is widespread and increases with the distance from Budapest. — Joseph Wechsberg (The Cooking of Vienna’s Empire)

The Cooking of Vienna’s Empire is the first of the Time-Life Foods of the World cookbooks I discovered. That was back in 1999, at the San Diego (Adams Avenue) Book Fair, for $0.25. It was a beat-up copy. I ended up buying a lot more books from this series than I should have, because Joseph Wechsberg’s writing about Vienna, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia are so interesting, the photos are wonderful, and the recipes are great. This is one of the better books in the series; many don’t live up to this one.

The very first recipe I tried from his book was Paprikás Burgonya. It is a great recipe for a Friday-falling National Potato Day. Start it in the morning in the crock-pot and eat it at night. Or whip it up quickly on the stove-top.

One of the things that made this stew so good when I first made it is that a friend of mine had brought me some “pimentón de la vera” from Spain. I had no idea what that meant, other than that it was paprika. But it was so much better than normal paprika I despaired of ever making any paprika-based dishes after this ran out. Eventually, with the onset of Internet search engines, I discovered that “pimentón de la vera” is a smoked paprika, and is easily, if not universally, available at grocery stores in the United States as smoked paprika. It may not be up to the level of smoked paprika from Spain, but it still vastly improves just about any dish that calls for paprika.

If you don’t have smoked paprika, just use sweet paprika—it’s what the original calls for, though of course the original calls for Hungarian sweet paprika.

  1. I solved this problem in my own World of Highland by assuming that the world had been taken apart and put back together haphazardly; among other features, this allowed potatoes to exist throughout the known world.

  2. Possibly earlier; Better Homes and Gardens reprinted their cookbooks in slightly different forms starting in at least the fifties and extending into the seventies.

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  2. National Sandwich Day ->