Monday, November 23, 2009

Family Recipe: Creamed Potatoes

Some of you may have noticed that I talk a lot about my maternal grandmother, Gramma Rhetta but fail to mention my other grandmother, Helen. There are some good reasons for this.

~ Grandma Helen died when I was fairly young, so my memories of her are limited.
~ Grandma Helen was a fairly good cook, but whenever she visited, she never set foot in the kitchen, which is where I hung out most of the time.
~ Grandma Helen did not approve of Donny Osmond, which, in my childhood opinion, made her dubious of character.
~ Grandma Helen did things that, in my mind, were boring, like playing cards. And sitting.
~ Grandma Helen didn't much like me. And it was sorta obvious.

It's rather painful, not to be liked by your own grandma. And it wasn't even my fault. I didn't do anything beastly like kick her in the shins or pull down her girdle or put soap in the glass she soaked her teeth in (I did do this last one, however, to my paternal grandfather. I ain't no angel).

What did I do then, to deserve such a cold fate? I had the unfortunate luck to look exactly like my mother. Who Grandma Helen happened to vigorously dislike.

Now really, inheriting big blue eyes and blonde hair and skinny little legs isn't a horrible thing. I quite like those things about me, in truth. But I looked far too much like Mama for Grandma Helen's liking.

She much preferred my sister, who resembled my father's side of the family, with her brown hair and her hazel eyes and her short legs. Plus, my sister liked to do boring things like play cards and sit.

Don't feel too sorry for me though, the feeling was sort of mutual.

Not many of Grandma Helen's recipes made it to my Mama's recipe box. Not that she didn't turn out some tasty things--it's just that most of her recipes were incredibly time consuming. Like the vegetable beef soup that had to simmer all day long before deemed good enough to serve.

In fact, Mama tells a story about requesting (and subsequently receiving) the recipe for Grandma Helen's legendary Angel Food Cake. Mama opened the envelope, scanned the recipe card, saw the instructions sift the flour ten times and promptly ripped the recipe in half and tossed it in the garbage can.

Who's got the time to sift flour ten freaking times?

However, one recipe Mama did serve was grandma Helen's Creamed Potatoes. It was one of the few recipes that everyone in our entire family liked, so I ate them a lot growing up. And, like a lot of old family recipes, it doesn't even exist. At least in real recipe form. Grandma Helen taught Mama to make that recipe by feel, and I never learned, so I don't make them.

At least I didn't used to.

I had the pleasure of having my parents for Sunday dinner the other day, and Mama generously showed me how to make Creamed Potatoes.

Which may not be a good thing, because Creamed Potatoes are so delicious and so rich that I probably should skip the eating step and apply them directly to my backside.

But boy, they're good. So whip them up for a special occasion, or when you need comfort in a bowl. And then go run 4 freaking miles or something.

Creamed Potatoes
serves 6-ish

5 yukon gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons gravy flour, such as Wondra
2/3 to 1 cup whole milk
Salt and pepper to taste
chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)

Cover the cubed potatoes with cold water, adding about 1/2 inch extra water above the potatoes. Add a generous tablespoon of salt. Bring the water to a rolling boil; turn down to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are just done (a fork can pierce them) about 5-8 minutes.

Pour off all but about 1/3 cup of the cooking liquid. Put potatoes and water back on the heat, add the butter and stir until melted. Gradually add in flour, stirring to incorporate lumps. Add the milk in two batches, increasing the amount of milk if the mixture seems too thick. Add a generous grinding of pepper and taste for salt, adding if necessary. Top with parsley, if desired.


  1. I think the potatoes may make up for the Donny Osmond thing. Maybe.

    Have I told you yet how much I love what you write? Because I do. I love it.

  2. My grandma doesn't like me either. At least you have these potatoes!

  3. These sound so comforting. I could take a big bowl right now! I'm glad you finally tracked down the recipe. Your kids will love this.

  4. I don't know if it makes me feel better or worse to learn that so many families are as tricky as my own. I'll contemplate that on Thursday while stuffing my face with these scrumptious sounding potatoes!

  5. I wonder if we all have one grandmother that we cherish and one that we could do without. I had one that was crazy about me, but she was pretty much crazy about everything, like really. So I don't have a lot to do with her. Or her cooking.

  6. I think these potatoes will be a hit on Thanksgiving!

    How could anyone NOT like Donny Osmond?

  7. My father's mother didn't like my mother (too pretty, too popular) and, as a result, didn't much like me either. (She said I was a whore when my college boyfriend and I moved in together five years into our lousy nine-year relationship). I have one of her recipes--for a fabulously rich chocolate pie. You just reminded me of it--I'm gonna make it (for you!). As for your book club...tell them they either let you know your plans or you're quitting. Ditto the Halloween crowd. What's up with these people???

  8. You do have an interesting family. Make's mine seem so Leave it to Beaver boring. My dad's mom was the best cook (the one that made molasses cookies just for me) something my mom wouldn't do, although see did make banana bread in a little can without nuts just for me. Anyway My mom learned how to cook from My dad'd mom, not her own. Her mom worked and would cook everything on high.

  9. ..."skip the eating step and apply them directly to my backside."
    You slay me!

  10. Well, I hope you're happy. My pants button popped open just reading this recipe.

    Gorgeous picture of you, by the way.

    I have no family recipes from either grandparent. I grew up geographically far from one, and my other grew up during the Depression, so her recipes were things like: "Buy can of green beans (on sale). Store in basement for 17 years. Consume lukewarm."

  11. Yikes! A killer/ calorie ridden potato recipe which is right up my alley! Lead me to it!

  12. The potatoes are great!

    I loved reading your blog. close to the heart and simple. Anyways I echo your situation. only thing is my paternal grandfather you hates for resembling my mom, ( I have similarities with my mom, which I quite like) and loves my sis. But only because she resembles his own son, my father.

    nice reading about it!

  13. Grandma Helen did not like Donny Osmond? I am aghast! I cried when he came on TV on Saturday mornings and think he is still cute as ever on Dancing with the Stars!
    Seriously, we all family members that choose the low road-looks like you handled it with a healthy perspective. Plus, you have a good recipe for creamy mashed potatoes.

  14. I am glad you weren't too scarred. It indeed sucks to not be liked, obviously and not just you imagining it, by any family member. She's just jealous. (And I am already worried about me being jealous of my future daughters-in-law because they are taking my babies away from me...) Cough cough. Where was I? Oh, yes, thank you so much for turning the cooking process into actual recipes. So many of the family recipes are "a pinch of this", "Add it till you have enough". Huh? Help!

  15. I am clearly not the first to focus on the most important line of this post: "Grandma Helen did not approve of Donny Osmond, which, in my childhood opinion, made her dubious of character."
    Childhood opinion nothing. That seals it for me.
    Also, what in the name of all that is holy is gravy powder? The fact that you've given a name brand option suggests that others know something I do not. Namely, that there is powdered gravy out there? I can't go on with this comment because I am reeling.
    I've just never though about gravy, I guess, which means there are a *LOT* of things I have not thought about. I have to go think of them all. While sitting. And playing cards.

  16. Can I just say, the profile shot of you is beautiful, much like your mother's. You look just like Nicole Kidman when she played Samantha in "Bewitched." :) Happy Thanksgiving!

  17. Why is it that some one can dislike achild simply because they spawned from someone else?
    Pisses me off.
    Apparentley I can relate.

  18. Ah, your story cracked me up (in a sad sort of way, of course). People can be so strange! Sounds like you managed to make it through okay anyway!

  19. Hey I make these but it is my mama's recipie, and they are delicious. I understand about the grandma thing. My mother in-law adored my kids until they got older a started reminding her of me. It was hard on them because they didn't understand.

  20. I'm with Naptime...what is gravy flour? Most likely something that is bad for me yet I'll probably adore. Like alcohol.

  21. I am with you on the Grandmother thing...My Dad's Mum once told me that she knew I liked my other Gran more purely because she had money to give me ... I told her it was because she was nicer! When she told me that it would be fine for my mother to visit but she would have to 'stand in the garden with the rest of the rubbish', I happily told her I would not return ... My other Gran on the other hand is my hero ...

  22. Oh the memories you have brought back! Thank you!!! And, you know, even though she may have failed to show it, Grandma Helen is proud of the you you have become!

  23. Apply to your backside?! You make me laugh! and that photo of you looking grumpy is a classic!! :) xxx

  24. LOL My dads parents didn't like me much either because I was a girl, they felt girls were a waste of time. My brother hit me in the eye with a baseball and when I went crying to grandma she said grow up and stop crying, I was 6.
    I was going to be a total slacker for thanksgiving and do instant potatoes but now I think I will have to try these. Thanks

  25. Wow, awesome readers...I had no idea there were so many Grandma's Who Ride Broomsticks out there!

    To think that any person would shun such amazing brains/heart/spirits is proof that there is assholery afoot in this world. Sometimes.

    Nap and Gibs: Gravy flour is just like normal flour but it's finer grained (eg: they take regular flour and pulverize the shit out of it and...viola!...gravy flour. And Nap, sorry to trigger your gag reflex, but yeah, they *do* make powdered gravy mix...don't go there, sweetness. It's baaaad.

  26. So when you say that you should skip the eating and apply them straight to your ass, is there a special tool for that? Bigger than a putty knife, smaller than a trowel?

  27. I was thinking one of those drywall/sprayer thingy's...

  28. I have a nasty Grandma too...and the other one passed away when I was 4. Bummer. I will have to make these the next time I make a special dinner!!!!

  29. The character in the story offered up her treehouse, but mine was otherwise occupied by my sister and me. :)

  30. More please.

    But potatoes first. Let me just be clear.

  31. So sorry you had the feelings you did from your grandmother. So unfair to such a sweet, dear girl.

  32. They sound perfect. Mmmmm.
    Like your Creamed Potatoes, my mom's recipes are by "feel" too, which is frustrating for someone learning to cook.

  33. I had a Grandma who liked me. And then didn't. So, when I was in college I got pretty buff because I joined the crew team and was working out about 4 hours a day. She asked me one day, why I looked so "heavy." I said something about how strong I was, how my muscles were bigger because of my workouts. "Well, I'm sure that's what you'd like to think," she said. No joke. I will never ever forget that. And I will never make any of her recipes. Nope. Nanny's recipes are in my kitchen. But not one of Grandma's.

  34. Jen,

    How interesting that you just said this. I have been working on a post for a few weeks, and it's just too much for me to wrestle's about how other women in our lives Fuck Us Up About Food. And I am very, very afraid that I will fuck my girls up about food. And I am trying very hard not to.

    I am trying so hard that sometimes I think I'm doing them a disservice...but I have no map for this. I don't know what I'm doing.

    But what I do know is that it just takes ONE remark like that to cripple a girl for years. And that's what I'm scared of.

  35. We do fuck each other up about food and our body images, and we do it to women and girls we love. It comes from some warped concept of what will make us happy, I think. Unfortunately, we think we'll be happy if we are pretty or pleasing or if we make a man happy.

    Keep teaching your girls that they are not about their looks, that their faces and bodies don't define them. Keep teaching them that they want bodies that are strong and healthy for themselves, not to please anyone else. We teach these fucked up things; we can change that.

    You sound like a very aware woman and mother, TWK. I'm thinking you might have more of a map than you know...

  36. Jen and MP--guess what I'm doing for my Half-Drunk in December post at Momalom...?
    Thanks, awesome girls!~ I'd like to throw everyone's scale into rush-hour-traffic, but...

    Maybe it's better that I just deal with the issue. but I don't wanna.

  37. i love a recipe with a story. i love a recipe that involves potatoes, and even more if there's butter too. lovely post, and happy thanksgiving!