We are not Jewish, but potato pancakes (latkes) were a common side dish for my family when I was growing up. I didn’t even know it was a traditional Jewish food until I was an adult! When cooked right, they are crispy on the edges and filled with flavor. I decided to make some the other night to go with our supper. Our potatoes come from my brother, who is a commercial farmer, but has a small plot of what we call “muck potatoes.”(Or Wilson Farm Market is another good option for potatoes) Muck is a not-so-technical term for the type of soil in certain areas of his farm. It’s almost black and very nutrient rich and grows potatoes well. It does, however, leave a thick black residue of soil which needs to be cleaned off of the potatoes before cooking.
I was standing at the sink, cleaning the potatoes of their muck, and realizing how varied the shapes of the potatoes were. There were some which were the typical size of new red potatoes, some with big knobs on the end, some with large indentations and bruises, and some which were more the size of a traditional russet potato found in the store but not very oval shaped. How interesting, I thought – just like people, these potatoes were all shapes and sizes. And even more interesting, you almost never saw potatoes with knobs or indentations in the store. What do they do with them? Relegate them to frozen hash browns? Cut them down to put in cans? I admit, I liked the variety of shapes and miss them if I need to buy store potatoes. Just like people, I like the variety and style of various personalities. Each person tells a story of the differences in their lives, and each potato had different growing conditions which fashioned it into unusual shapes. If all of us were the same, we would be very boring. Who likes boring potatoes (or people)?
As I finished cleaning them, I began to run them through the food processor to shred. I thought back to my Mom making potato pancakes and remembered she used to always peel her potatoes before shredding them. That always seemed like such a waste of time to me. Gotta admit – it still does. Unless I want to make fancy, creamy mashed potatoes for some crazy reason, I never peel potatoes. I seem to remember (in the recesses of my mind somewhere) that a lot of nutrients are in the peel of potatoes. Who am I to take away the health benefits! Ok, you’ve got me, it really is more of a time saver than anything. But when you don’t peel the potatoes, you have small peeks of extra color in your potato pancakes (or homemade fries, potato slices, roasted chunks, etc.) While my Mom’s potato pancakes were a beautiful, even, golden brown, mine have flecks of darker brown sticking out here and there.
I really think this is a great life lesson. Why spend the extra time to peel for a regular evening meal? Not that there isn’t a reason to make life special sometimes, and believe me – I am in full support of fancy food at the right occasions! But when I am rushed for dinner at the end of the night, the peel can stay firmly attached to the rest of the potato.
My Mom’s potato pancakes are delicious, but take that much extra work. More power to her for it – but mine taste the same and I kinda like a little more variety. Cheers – Here’s to the power of the peel and misshaped ingredients in our food and in our lives.