Tag Archives: grandmother

La purée de Mamie

13 Jan

Personal memories linked to a special cook or a special meal from the past can be a stereotype or a common topos in food writing (this is what Dianne Jacob suggests in her book Will write for food evoking editors’ exasperation with these stories). But I am convinced that they are worth sharing. So let’s get tummy nostalgic for a moment…

One of my favorite meals is smashed potatoes. It comes from the days of my grandmother (the inspirational grandmother is what constitutes the cliché; but we love our grandmothers and they deserve being remembered one way or another). She used to cook the exact same lunch every Saturday: a juicy beef steak cooked in a big piece of margarine and ground pepper, lettuce salad with shallots vinaigrette and smashed potatoes. She would serve me a piece of steak and then creamy potatoes, digging a hole in the middle and pouring in some of the meat sauce. Usually I would go back to the pan and take more sauce as the purée would disappear from my plate.

Smashed potatoes are easy to cook but the result always varies depending on the ingredients used to flavor them. Even if she was not using any specific recipe, I know from memories of watching her preparing the meal while listening to the 1pm news on TV that she would mash the potatoes with milk, then put a large piece of margarine with salt and ground pepper. I am not sure but I think she would also add some whipped cream. At the end, she topped it with an egg yolk to give it this beige color and link the whole preparation into a very creamy one. I use to complain to my mom that her mashed potatoes were not as good as her own mother’s. My grandmother always answered vaguely about what made it so special. Maybe she did not know herself, but I am still very convinced she had a secret. The smell filling up the small apartment, the consistency and the well known taste of it constitute a vivid memory. I was never able to cook the same mashed potatoes or make that sauce by myself, nor was I able to taste it again anywhere.

Years later, I had the chance to taste mashed sweet potatoes during my first Christmas in an American family. Sweet potatoes are not a common ingredient in France and I must admit I was a little bit skeptical about it. I know the tendency of Americans to sweeten everything, from mustard to chicken.  And the idea of mixing it with marshmallow was a total affront to my grandmother’s meat and margarine sauce. But what I discovered enchanted my palate: creamy, with a slight sense of maple syrup, the mashed sweet potatoes were not only savory but good looking with the marshmallows on top, alike a lemon pie topped with small meringues.

I forgot to ask the cook the recipe so it will stay a mysterious tasty memory, alike my grandmother’s mashed potatoes.

Advertisements