In this cold and wintry weather, food is more than a necessity of life. It is comfort. It is diversion. It is reconnecting with the past, and nothing is quite so “past” as a recipe file.
My son, who is quite the creative and inventive cook, mentioned that he had ribeye steaks for dinner for the next day, and what did I want to go with them. Potatoes, of course.
Then the idea hit me - I want fingerling potatoes. I was already making notes on the grocery list - look for rosemary and thyme. Kevin checked out the internet recipes, and found one from Paula Dean and one from somebody unknown to us but with a better recipe.
“Fingerling” is a shape like a small narrow football. They can be reddish or more likely brown. They look delicate, because they are. And if nobody skipping in to my neighborhood grocery has fingerlings, they will surely have Baby Gold. And so they did.
But first, let me stop to reminisce about my first knowledge of fingerlings. It was in a hand-me-down book, which I’m sure I’ve owned at least 30 years, with the title “Green Thoughts: a Writer in the Garden,” written by Eleanor Perenyi. She’s an American, with British connections, and married into Czech high circles - and only much later did I happen upon an autobiography and discover why she now gardens on the Connecticut coast.
She chose an interesting chapter format - alphabetical, and just plant titles. No connection one with the next, which is good for occasional dipping into. (Fortunately somebody indexed the book, for reference.)
In the chapter on potatoes, she explains her theory of not growing anything in her garden that she can buy locally. And she says she never grew potatoes until she went on holiday in France, (this would have been in the early 1980s) and discovered an old friend, a small potato the size and shape of a small sausage, with thin skin and firm yellow waxy flesh. She felt sure that German American communities ought to know and sell this potato, but could not find it anywhere in the States.
But she found seedling potatoes in the heart of Paris. Bought a two-kilo bag of “jaune d’hollande.” Getting it home was another matter. Half the crop she mailed home to herself in a shoe box marked “used shoes.” The other half she carried around in a suitcase for the three weeks left of her holiday, by which time they were beginning to sprout.
Customs inspectors were not interested in sprouting potatoes.
And from the reunited batch, she grew what she thought must be the only crop of these delightful little semi-rarities this side of the Atlantic. Not so. Another garden writer informed her that they were and had always been available in the Gurney seed catalog. They are not easy to prepare - if you insist on peeling them. Just wash them gently, let them steam for 15 minutes, and enjoy.
Being in a reminiscent mood, I reflected on why I owned this copy of this book. My dear friend Roberta Watrous had a friend who was one of the true excentrics of the American Daffodil Society, Lettie Hanson. Roberta had been given a jug of cheap wine and a second-hand copy of Perenyi’s book. She was planning to take care of her Christmas gift obligations regarding Lettie, preferably with the book, as she already had a copy.
But Lettie refused. “I won’t have that book in my house, because of the author’s outrageous act of smuggling potatoes into this country.”
So there was nothing for Roberta to do but give her the jug of wine instead. She wrote me and told me the story, and asked if I’d like to have the book, which of course I treasured then and even more so now.
And, to wind up in our kitchen, Vicki, my wonderful new personal shopper who makes my life possible these days, called twice from Kroger, not finding the fingerlings I described. Could we substitute a small round potato called “Baby Gold”? Perenyi had said this was a likely choice, and, cut in half, liberally rolled in good olive oil and smothered with rosemary flakes, thyme, lemon pepper (Everything goes better with lemon pepper, in this kitchen, at least.) and baked about 30 minutes, they were delicious.
And this week I have another sack of Baby Gold, but one fine day, I will walk in the produce section of Kroger, and find a whole bin full of the true fingerlings.