This Spuds for You John Moore

That’s what mom said got us through the hard times. Potatoes.
I honestly never knew we had hard times, but if she said we did, we did. And during those financial bumps in the road, we ate potatoes. Lots of them.
Like many families, my parents had a garden. I always thought they grew okra, tomatoes, and other itchy vegetation to make my life miserable. But the potatoes I never minded.
That’s because potatoes are the most versatile food on Mother Earth. The endless possibilities of this amazing vegetable allowed even the most callous kid to look forward to eating whatever variation would grace our Formica dinette set.
Turns out, many of the potato recipes on which we grew up dated back to the war and before, to the Depression.
My mom also told me that.
The goal of cooking for a houseful of working men and growing children was to fill them up. Often, that was accomplished with biscuits, gravy, and fried potatoes.
As far back as I can remember, we had fried potatoes at every meal. Breakfast, dinner, and supper. They were cooked in the bacon drippings left from breakfasts past. Drippings that were kept in a tin next to the stove that said, “Grease” on it.
We may not have had a lot of other food dishes on the table, but fried potatoes were always plentiful. So were the mashed variety.
My mother’s mashed potatoes were perfect. The only thing that made them better was her gravy, also crafted from the bacon drippings, as well as flour and milk.
Whenever there were leftover mashed potatoes, mom would shape and fry up potato cakes. About the size of sausage patties, potato cakes were the durable, on-the-go snack my sister and I would find in our school lunch sacks.
Seared and browned in bacon drippings, the potato cakes were so good, that you could often trade them to another kid for just about anything they had that you wanted. But I rarely gave up my mom’s potato cakes.
Baked potatoes were often a meal of their own. My parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles almost all had gardens (a leftover practice from the Victory Gardens of the war, and a financial necessity), so good-size bakers were almost always available.
Mostly, real butter, salt and pepper were all we put on baked potatoes, but that was enough. I never saw a baked potato with sour cream, onions, cheese, and bacon until I was older and got one in a restaurant.
Many tubers were kept for months in my grandparents’ root cellar, so what was grown in the spring and summer were plentiful enough to carry us through most of the winter. A supply of potatoes were stored in the pantry and were always accessible when baked, fried, or boiled potatoes were on the menu.
Boiled potatoes were cooked using the smaller ones, and almost always were combined with green beans coming out of the garden. I never cared much for green beans. Still don’t. But when your parents tell you to eat something, you do it.
Unlike what I see with kids today where they tell their parents what they want, when I was a kid, you ate what was in front of you, or you went to bed hungry.
But with potatoes, we never went hungry. And we never wanted to. It wasn’t just the potatoes, it was everything my mother and grandmothers cooked that was nothing less than excellent.
We may not have had much, and we may not have known it, but I wouldn’t trade the food I grew up on for anything. Those simple recipes are still better than any fancy dish at some 5-star restaurant.
My mom doesn’t cook as much as she used to. My dad and sister are gone, and I don’t get back home as much as I should. But on special occasions, she cooks for us. Her biscuits and gravy are still the best.
And regardless of how she fixes potatoes, they’re always so good that every bite full takes me back. Back to when times were tough, but we didn’t know it.
©2022 John Moore
John’s new book, Puns for Groan People, and his books, Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, are available on his website –, where you can also send him a message and hear his weekly podcast.

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