The Power Of Potatoes
The Homestead Kitchen—Waste Not; Want Not
By Shirley Benson, Wisconsin
Waste not—want not, an old saying I remember my father repeating to me many times, usually when I was leaving too much potato on the peeling. “You might wish you had that by spring,” he would add. So much food goes to waste every day. People plant a tree in their yard and eat only a little of the fruit. They raise a beautiful garden and then eat some of it fresh, give a bit to neighbors and the balance goes to the garbage can or compost pile. Storing our homegrown foods for future use is one way of stopping much of this waste.
Whether your interest in preserving foods is in eating pure food without all the additives and preservatives, preparing for a disaster or just for the money you can save on the grocery bill, home canning is my favorite method. I have always had the luxury of a garden space or in these later years had friends and family who are willing to share. In recent years most of my foods are surplus that others do not need. I have even canned on shares. Many workingwomen manage to raise a garden but canning takes so much time. Time I have, so they furnish the produce and their own jars, and I do the preserving for both of us. That way we both have a pantry full of nutritious inexpensive food and manage to live within our income.
The potato has always been my favorite food. It is odd because we ate so many of them when I was growing up, you would think I would be tired of them. A cellar bin full of potatoes meant we ate well all winter. We had them three times a day. They can be prepared in so many different ways and compliment almost any food you choose to serve with them.
For years we were told the lowly potato was not good for us because, except for a bit of potassium, it was mostly starch. I could never quite believe this because the Irish people had survived with little else for generations. Today the powers that be are beginning to think differently.
Early last fall my brother and I were talking about potatoes when I mentioned how much I liked those little red ones. He said he had a lot of those left after he had sorted his potatoes and he would bring me some; they were going to be thrown out. To me, that is the ultimate challenge—to save something that would have been wasted. I should have known he never does anything half way. I must have had 50 pounds of potatoes, some as large as a half dollar, but most were smaller.
Newly dug potatoes are very easy to peel. Brush them under water with a small vegetable brush and the skins slip off. These had been dug for a few days and had already begun to dry; the only thing was to peel them. I decided to can a few jars as they were so good, but that would be it. After a couple of hours I had nine pints ready for the canner. To can your potatoes just follow the instructions in your favorite canning book. I do all my canning in a pressure canner, especially potatoes, as they are high in starch and very low in acid.
The next morning those shiny jars looked so good sitting on the counter, I decided I would do a few more. I refused to peel any potato that was smaller than a marble, but in the end I had 35 pints of beautiful snowy white potatoes and they cost me some salt, a little electricity and a jar lid. Now came the fun time—experimenting with new recipes.
If you have never used home canned potatoes; you are in for a treat. They make wonderful breakfast potatoes. Canned red potatoes are very firm and easy to work with. Drain them well and shred them on the knuckle buster, and you have golden hash browns in minutes, or dice them and fry crispy in butter. When potatoes are nearly done, add a few finely diced onions and green peppers. Stir them into the potatoes and allow them to continue cooking while you cook eggs either over-easy or poached. Serve the eggs on top of the potatoes for a special breakfast.
Canned potatoes work well in complete meal hot dishes or as a side dish. Slice them about 1/4-inch thick, spread in a baking dish and top with a tablespoon of finely chopped onion. Next make a medium gravy of hamburger, pork sausage or any of the canned meats you have preserved (beef, pork, chicken or venison). Pour the meat gravy over the potatoes and cover tightly—I use aluminum foil. Bake in a 350°F oven for about one hour. It’s a great dish for the extra busy days.
If you cook with canned soups you can use them in place of the meat by adding a little milk to the soup, stirring well and then pour it over the potatoes and bake. Try mushroom, cream of chicken, asparagus, celery or cheese for a pleasant variety or use your favorite cheesy potato recipe.
I prefer my own homemade sauces and gravies to avoid all the extra salt and additives, but the soup is a quick fix when you are rushed. My personal choice is creamy chicken gravy with 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley added before baking. Remember those tiny little parsley potatoes you had at the last banquet you attended? You thought they were so good…wait until you try your own!
I have had people tell me they live in town and have no access to free or cheap food. Look carefully; unless you live in the heart of a large city, there is food all around you. It doesn’t cost anything to ask. It might cost you a little labor, but work is good for you—it saves on gym fees. Many farmers will allow responsible people to glean their fields after the harvest. We have picked peas, beans, corn, tomatoes and potatoes after the machines have finished.
A friend in California said they found a grapefruit tree in a yard near them with the fruit falling to the ground and rotting. She asked if she could pick a few and was told to take all they wanted. Just for cleaning up a few fallen fruit they had all the grapefruit they could use. Last year some people gave us pears from a tree in their yard. They ate a few fresh but did not want the rest. We had pear sauce all winter, with very little cost or effort on our part.
Harvesting on our lawn here in town is a little limited, but we gather dandelions in early spring for greens and salads as well as violet leaves from the flowerbeds. The dandelion leaves are dried for tea and the blossoms emulsified in oil make a great pain reliever for sore muscles. My grandmother used the dandelion blossoms to make a very smooth wine. A neighbor had a huge mullein plant in her flower garden last summer. This summer our lawn was speckled with little mullein plants. Gathered and dried they make a great addition to my healing herbs and teas. These few things do not make a full pantry, but if you keep your eyes open and gather where you can, it will amaze you when autumn arrives to see how it all adds up. You eat better foods, save money, and have the satisfaction of knowing you did it yourself.