From 1921: Italian Potatoes

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So, this is my fifth week in my PhD program, and it is hard. I knew it would be, but I didn’t really know how it would be if that makes sense. I knew it would be a lot of work, of course, but I guess I didn’t realize how much deeper I was going to have to start thinking.

For first year PhDs, there’s a class called Introduction to Doctoral Studies. It’s basically a philosophy class. It’s all about reading to absorb really deep, complex philosophical ideas that define the hows and whys of historical study. I’m learning SO much, but the readings are long, dense, and complicated. Seriously, when I leave class, my brain hurts!

I guess what I’m having trouble with is that I’m really far behind my classmates – at least it feels that way. So many of them come from much better universities than what I went to; they come from different family backgrounds; they come from different classes of society. I’m proud of my mid-Western, blue collar, rust belt background, but I’m not the average person in a PhD program here in Boston. I guess I never really thought of myself as different… but, it’s very obvious here.

Anyway, with being so busy working on really difficult work, I’m going to cut back on blogging for the time being. Once I’m able to get a handle on how overwhelmed I am, and once I can “catch up” a bit, I’ll pick it up again. But, for now, I’m going to go down to one post a week.

So, what are we cooking? Italian potatoes from Lowney’s Cook Book published in 1921.

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Here are our ingredients: Russet potatoes, onion, parsley, cheese, eggs, salt, and pepper.

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Step 1: Wash, peel, dice, and boil the potatoes until they’re fork tender. After they’re done cooking, pour them into a mixing bowl and set them aside to cool. You’re going to be adding eggs to them, so they need to be as cool as possible so they don’t cook the eggs!

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Step 2: While you’re waiting for your potatoes to cool, prep the rest of the ingredients. Grate a little bit of an onion onto some cheesecloth.

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Step 2.1: Then, squeeze the juice out of the onion into a bowl or a cup. You don’t need much, so don’t shred too much onion or it’ll just go to waste!

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Step 3: Shred a half cup of cheese. I used parmesan cheese since the recipe is called “Italian” potatoes, but I’m sure you could use any cheese you’d like! If you’re using shredded cheese from a bag, you won’t even have to do this step!

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Step 4: Chop up some fresh parsley. Coincidentally, I had Italian parsley in my refrigerator, but you can use whatever you have!

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Okay… you’re potatoes have hopefully cooled enough by now!

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Step 5: Mash them up. You can do it by hand, or use an electric mixer like I did! Also, measure out two cups at this point. If you have extra, save them for another recipe, feed them to your dog, or just leave them in and add a little more of the other ingredients. I’m really easy to get along with!

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Step 6: Add the other ingredients: the onion juice, parsley, cheese, and one egg yolk. Save the egg white for the next step.

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Step 7: Put your egg white in another mixing bowl, and add three more. Save the yolks for another recipe or feed them to your dog!

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Step 8: Whip the whites until they’re stiff. Again, use an electric like I did. Unless, of course, you want to whip these by hand, then by all means!

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Step 9: Add the potatoes into the whipped egg whites. I wasn’t particularly careful with mine. You could be if you wanted to, I’m sure.

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Step 10: Whip everything together, and then add in salt and pepper as you see fit. Go with your tastes! When you’re all done, put the potatoes into a buttered 8×8″ baking dish and bake them at 350 for 20-30 minutes or until they’ve warmed through.

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Final step: Take a big spoonful of these mashed potatoes and plate them next to something comforting – roasted chicken and gravy, steak, pork and sauerkraut… whatever you want!

Things that are worth doing in life are hard. That doesn’t make them simpler or easier to deal with in the moment, of course. But, thinking big-picture, it’s important to remember. And, being overwhelmed and getting out of your comfort zone is the only way to go after those things that are hard. I know my PhD will be worth. I’m taking it one day at a time.

From 1921: Italian Potatoes

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2 cups mashed potatoes, cooled
  • 1-2 tsp. onion juice
  • 1/2 cup grated cheese
  • 1 Tbs. fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 4 egg whites
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8×8″ baking dish.
  2. Mix together the cooled mashed potatoes, onion juice, cheese, parsley, and egg yolk.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff.
  4. Pour the potato mixture into the egg whites and beat them together until creamy.
  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until hot all the way through. Serve immediately.

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Okay, so remember back when I made cherry jam and I told you we’d talk about 1855 another day? No? That’s okay. But, let’s talk about 1855 now!

I think it’s important when talking about history to understand that remembering the bad things is just as important as remembering the good. Sometimes, people or cultures or countries don’t want to remember the bad parts of their histories. Maybe there was a lot of violence. Maybe there is embarrassment over how and why horrible things were allowed to happen. Maybe people just feel like forgetting is the best way to move on. It’s so important, though, to learn about, discuss, and debate about the bad parts of history so we can understand how to keep them from happening again.

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Have you ever eaten or smelled something that immediately reminded you of something you’ve done before – like a sensory déjà vu, if you will? That’s what happened when I ate this macaroni au gratin, which is just a fancy name for macaroni and cheese! As soon as I took a bite, I knew I’d tasted it before – the creamy, saltiness of the parmesan; the way its cheesy cream sauce coated every noodle; the warm touch of the nutmeg… traditional gratins have a touch of nutmeg – don’t be afraid! And, then, as I closed my eyes, my other senses filled in the blanks. I could feel heat. I was sitting in the sun. I could hear people all around, and then a cuckoo clock. A cuckoo clock? You know where I tasted this dish before? It tastes EXACTLY like the Nudel Gratin from Germany at EPCOT! I love food and how it has the power to harness the senses and tap into memories!

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It was the year 1908 – the year Famous Old Receipts: Used a Hundred Years and More in the Kitchens of the North and the South was published. Now, typically, I would tell you about 1908, or at least the years surrounding 1908, since that’s when this cookbook was published, but this cookbook is about recipes used for over 100 years prior to the book’s publication. So, let’s talk about those 100 years. What happened in America between 1808 and 1908? A lot is the answer to that question!

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From 1917: Creamed Potatoes

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It was the year 1917. Woodrow Wilson was elected to serve his second term as President of a country at war – World War I. The average income was $800 per year, and the average home cost about $6,000. A well-managed home contained all the comforts a modern family could need: plumbing and electricity, a telephone with long-distance capability, a vacuum cleaner, a gas oven, and a phonograph. Women wore shorter dresses now – their skirts hit just above the ankle – and light face powder, rouge for the lips and cheeks, and eyeliner were most fashionable. Ice cream socials were all the rage, as was going to the cinema to see the silent Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. A movie ticket cost seven cents. Popular music of the era reflected the wartime; George Cohan’s “Over There” was a patriotic hit meant to convince young men to enlist in the army. And, jazz music made its way into the mainstream; “Livery Stable Blues” by Original Dixieland Jass Band was the first jazz recording commercially released to the public.

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From 1919: Cornbread

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From 1892: Potato Pancakes

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It was the year 1892, the beginning of what would come to be called the “Gay Nineties.” It’s funny; the 1890s weren’t particularly grand for the average American – for the wealthy, yes, but not for average people. The economy suffered a nationwide depression; an influx of immigrants combined with the grueling work laborers performed created unrest in the workforce; and, for most of the decade, the country ramped up for the Spanish American War, which finally broke out in 1898. So, why are the 1890s remembered as a time of such happiness and ease?

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