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On looking into a volume recently acquired entitled The Cook's Oracle (it was published in New York in 1830), I read a dismal warning: "For one plate of potatoes that comes to table as it should, ten are spoiled." This dampening sentence conjures up memories of the "meat and veg" of small English hotels, the gray cannonballs called Kn�del in Germany and the terrible greasy messes of potatoes and onions encountered on a cross-America motor trek.
No such thing should ever happen to the glorious, the indispensable, the life-nourishing spud! A casual run-through of any French work on cookery (think of pommes frites, pommes souffl�es, pommes pailles, etc.) will restore one's faith. So will any honest Idaho, buttered on the outside by a loving hand before baking, pinched open, white, steaming and mealy, waiting for the salt, pepper and yellow pats of butter that will make it the perfect foil to roast beef.
Then there is the world-over deliciousness of new potatoes, small golden marbles or rosy-red golf balls, boiled in their skins, anointed with butter and chopped parsley—a taste as fresh as the new grass of spring. M.F.K. Fisher once observed that almost every person has some secret thing he likes to eat. For me a greedy delight, furtively enjoyed, is leftovers of cooked new potatoes, filched from the icebox, sliced, salted and peppered with coarse pepper, dotted with small lumps of cold butter and sprinkled with chives—a food for' the gods at midnight with ice-cold milk.
L'art culinaire fran�ais, a modern volume on the ancient and present-day delights of la cuisine, states that there are more than 100 ways in which "apples of the earth" may be made pleasing to a gastronome. This is doubtless an understatement, at that. For there are dozens and dozens of things one can do even to plain mashed potatoes to make them different and appealing to the appetite. Today, all of these recipes—many of them classic dishes with fancy names—are easy to accomplish with the frozen mashed (or "whipped") potatoes which are available countrywide and which I have found to be one of the most successful and rewarding of frozen products. Here are some ideas worth considering.
VARIATIONS ON A THEME OF MASHED POTATOES
Potatoes Colcannon: A fine Irish dish that varies somewhat from county to county but always entails a great mountain of mashed potatoes on the platter. It is traditionally served for supper on Oct. 31st, "Gally Night," the eve of All Saints' Day. In Galway the potatoes are beaten up with buttermilk and finely chopped raw seal-lions, and a glob of butter is dropped into an indentation made with the back of a spoon on each individual serving. In other parts of Ireland, a great half pound of butter is buried in a mound of potatoes a foot high, and slices of fried Irish bacon lean against the pile.
Potatoes to serve with goose and duck: Mashed potatoes mixed with one-third their quantity of celery-root pur�e.
Potatoes to complement a platter of hot sausage: Mashed potatoes mixed with half their quantity of cooked, finely chopped broccoli or other greens.
Potatoes duchesse: This rich preparation, used as a border, can make a chicken hash or beef or veal stew the chef-d'oeuvre of a party. For an easy way to prepare, follow the package directions for defrosting frozen mashed potatoes, but add very little milk and whip in double the amount of butter called for on the package recipe. Then beat in, off the stove, two egg yolks for each package of potatoes used. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. The objective is a potato pur�e having such consistency that it can be squeezed easily through a pastry tube but will keep its shape when laid in scallops and swirls to border a fireproof platter. After laying down this border, brush it with cream. Place the platter in a very hot oven for 5 to 10 minutes to turn the potato border golden-brown on top. Then fill the center with hot hash or any other desired mixture, and serve. For potatoes mont d'or, follow the same directions but squeeze the potato pur�e in whorls on top of one another to form a mountain shape on a buttered ovenproof plate (or pie tin). Brush with beaten egg; then expose for seven minutes to a fierce oven heat. This is a nice change from fried potatoes when serving steak.
Italian potato pie: A hearty dish which is almost a meal in itself, the following recipe serves six. Defrost two packages of frozen mashed potatoes according to the directions on the package, then add � cup hot milk, whipping well. Whip in one tablespoon of butter and add seasoning. Thickly butter a 10-inch pie pan or shallow ovenproof dish. Sprinkle the pan evenly with a lining of bread crumbs. On top of this spread half of the mashed potatoes. Take � pound of ham or mortadella, thinly sliced, add � pound of Gruy�re or Swiss cheese, thinly sliced, and cut into small squares. Arrange the squares on top of the potatoes, together with three eggs which have been boiled six minutes, shelled and cut into quarters. Cover with the rest of the mashed potatoes. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and top with � cup of melted butter. Cook 20 minutes in a 400 � oven.