07 July 2009

The Potato Book

The Hampton Day School in Bridgehampton, New York decided to produce a book as a fund-raiser. Not a terribly unusual thing to do. Bridgehampton was once covered in potato fields, so the idea was to do a potato cookbook filled with recipes and fun potato facts and Myrna David stepped up. The Potato Book was born.

For any other community, such a fundraiser might go unnoticed, but Bridgehampton is a hotbed of writers, artists, restaurants and even Craig Claiborne. And while he didn’t have any children in the Hampton Day School, Truman Capote wrote the introduction. With all this talent, the book was snapped up by a publisher, primarily for the introduction. Capote wrote:

“I live in Sagaponack by the sea. The house, which I love, sits smack in the middle of potato fields. In Fall, when the harvesting is done and the tractors are gone from the fields, I amble out through the empty rows collecting small, sweet, leftover potatoes for my larder.

Imagine a cold October morning, I fill my basket with found potatoes in the field and race to the kitchen to create my one and only most delicious ever potato lunch. The Russian vodka—it must be 80 proof – goes into the icebox to chill. The potatoes into the oven to bake. My breathless friend arrives to share the feast. Out comes the icy vodka. Out comes a bowl of sour cream. Likewise the potatoes, piping hot.

We sit down to sip our drinks. We split open steaming potatoes and put on some sour cream. Now I whisk out the big tin of caviar, which I have forgotten to tell you is the only way I can bear to eat a potato."

Well this is hardly a rousing endorsement of the potato, but then Capote grew up in Alabama so I just love hear him (and when I read this I “hear” his unique voice) using words like “larder’ and “icebox” and I am drawn to his writing.

If you are out in the Hamptons for the summer, you may find the need to cook for a large gathering. Here’s what you need.

Quahog Chowder For 100

1 bushel chowder (Quahog) clams, opened and minced
15 pounds dressed-weight striped bass filets, chunked
1 3/4 gallons clam broth, reserved from steaming open clams (plus one quart)
18 medium-sized onions, minced fine and squeezed
2 pounds salt pork, diced
1/2 pound butter
10 pounds potatoes, pared and diced
3 quarts milk
1 cup Almaden white wine
Thyme, one bunch minced
1 cup chopped fresh parsley

Try out pork, add onions and cook until just slightly brown. Add butter if necessary. Add clam broth. Bring to a boil. Add potatoes; cook until tender. Add fish; cook until half or three-quarters done. Add clams, simmer briefly. Add thyme and parsley. Add milk and wine. Simmer all a while.

In keeping with our transcription of recipes from the book they are in, we left “Try” out the pork. I’m sure this is supposed to be “Fry”. As you can tell, this is a fund-raising cookbook, so there was no trained dietitian or even a trained cook to test the recipes. I am not sure how to tell if bass is “three-quarters done.” Nor am I sure how long, “a while” is. But you get the idea.

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