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Beverly Keller's entry in this year's writing contest reminded me of a family in the small town I grew up in. There wasn't any grass in the front, back, or on the sides of their house. There were red and russet potatoes, getting ready to be baked, broiled, or boiled, and you'll learn more about them all in Beverly's Honorable Mention column...
When we were planting our garden this spring, I thought I would write down for the grandchildren how we planted potatoes when I was young.
In early May my dad would buy a sack of potatoes at the Farmer's Store. Then we would cut them into pieces so that each piece had at least one "eye" or sprout in it. Then my dad would dig a hole with a shovel and we would put one potato piece into the hole and "hill" it up (make a mound of dirt over it.) He would always buy russet seed potatoes that would grow into large white potatoes. My grandpa always got red potatoes. I can remember them debating every year which was the better potato, but they always used the same kind every year. I asked my dad why he bought seed potatoes instead of using our old ones from last year. He said we needed to get potatoes grown somewhere else because you can't grow the same kind of potato in the same ground every year.
After the potatoes came up and grew a few inches, we would go with hoes and weed out the weeds and hill them up again. Then when they started to bloom we would have to go and pick off the potato bugs. You couldn't just put them on the ground and step on them because they had a very hard shell, so we usually took a jar and put them into that and then took them to the road or a stone to kill them.
My dad used to tell the story of when he and his brother were young. They hated picking off those potato bugs. One year their father gave them each 25 cents to spend at the county fair. They walked around trying to decide how to spend their money. They heard a man selling something for 50 cents that was guaranteed to kill potato bugs. They decided to pool their money and buy it. They got a box that he told them not to open until they got out into their potato field. When they opened the box, there were two pieces of wood inside. The directions said "Place potato bug between the pieces to kill." They were very angry that they had wasted their money on that!
When the potato greens started to dry up, my mother would go out with a potato fork and dig up a hill of new potatoes for dinner. Then we would eat them with the skins on with butter. That was a treat!
When the greens were completely dry, we were usually back in school. We would come home from school to see that my dad had dug all of the potatoes and they would be lying on screens in the yard to dry out. Then we would brush off the dried dirt, but not wash them, and put them into the potato cellar in the basement. They would be piled on pieces of cardboard right on the floor of the fruit cellar.
The rest of the year, my mother would tell us to get some potatoes for dinner or supper. We usually ate potatoes at every meal. Usually they were peeled and boiled in salted water. Sometimes she would cream them or rice them, but mostly just boiled for dinner or supper. For breakfast they were always fried.
That is how we grew potatoes when I was growing up in the late 40s and early 50s.
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* This month's Penguin Classics book is THE RETURN OF THE SOLDIER, by Rebecca West. Start reading now and don't forget to enter the drawing for your chance to win a Penguin tote bag.