In 1975, the first recipe I tried from the Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cook Book (“For Beginning Cooks of All Ages”) was Creamy Lemon Pie, page 58. “You’ll be proud to serve this mouth-watering pie at a family dinner or a fancy party.” I was eight, and reread the words several times, to make sure they were talking to me: Serve. Family dinner. Fancy party. I followed the recipe to the letter, agonizing over the terms. “Beat egg with fork till no white shows.” Did I see any white? I think I saw white. More beating. “The delicate graham-cracker crust.” How delicate was delicate? Delicate like bubbles, or delicate like that green candy dish I broke? And how did you pronounce that, anyway? I hoped no one would ask me to say it.
The tangy yellow pie was a triumph, especially the graham-crumb star on top, which they had pictured on page 58. You may want to make up your own design, the book said. Nothing doing. I copied it, certain their six-point star would unlock the door to mouth-watering. Fancy party. I cooked my way through the book step by 1-2-3 step, carefully turning out Tutti-Frutti-Ice Sparkle, Quick Walnut Penuche, Flip-Flop Pancakes and steaming, butter-pat perfect Baked Potatoes.
Baked potatoes had few ingredients – one – but apparently required a recipe. I followed it. Fifteen years and four kitchens passed before I stopped following recipes, before I started jotting yolk-stained notes, before trusting my own hands, before saying why yes, I will make up my own design. Enough experience and the deceptively easy – the omelet, the pie crust, the potato – will come easier. Directives loosen and slide and one day, in your kitchen, you throw in this and take out that, and the recipes serve as inspiration. Your hands trust you.
Still, even the seasoned cook takes steps forward and back. For Summer Fest Potato Week (soon to be Fall Fest), I thought nothing like baked potatoes, and since no tricks or twists can make them better than they are, I decided to pull my BHG Junior Cook Book and retrace my steps, following the Baked Potatoes recipe exactly as I did in ’75, which is to say, exactly. I found the beloved blue squares basic and soothing, and also found they produced the finest baked potato a beginning cook – or any cook, of any age – can make.
Set oven at 425°. Scrub dirt off potatoes. Stick with a fork to make holes for the hot steam to escape.
Note that the wire brush is not the exact one pictured in the book. Had I the wrong brush in 1975, I might have assumed the potatoes would come out wrong – deflated or something. Guess what? Brush not important.
Put potatoes on oven rack. Bake potatoes 40 to 60 minutes. They will be soft when squeezed with toweling.
And indeed, they are soft when squeezed with paper toweling. I was so enamored with the word. Would you pass me a paper toweling? Mother, I think we are out of toweling.
Cut a cross in the top of each potato with a paring knife. Place a pat of butter or margarine in each opening.
That cross-cutting bit was clear to me but oh dear, butter or margarine. Which one? Also, the BHG illustration (see above, #3) taught me that when dealing with butter, a pat was not just a slice, but a square yellow thickness of your choice.
There we have it. I followed my own junior footsteps and turned out the same excellent, crisp-skin and fluff-center potatoes. I didn’t toy with perfection then and, experience aside, don’t see any reason to now.
Well. You know.
Summer Fest is an annual online celebration of good food and great ideas, featuring food and garden bloggers from around the globe. Every week we share great recipes, stories and tips for marvelous seasonal ingredients. You can participate by visiting the guest blogs to share links or comments – and if you’re particularly inspired, contribute a post of your own. Drop by A Way to Garden for details on how join the party.
THIS WEEK’S LINKS: POTATOES
Alison at Food2: Boil ‘Em, Mash ‘Em, Stick ‘Em in a Stew
Kirsten at FN Dish: Twice-Baked Potatoes
Sara at Cooking Channel: Duck Fat Roasted Potatoes
Healthy Eats: A Day of Potatoes: Spuds for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
Caron at San Diego Foodstuff: Hatch Chile Potato Salad
Nicole at Pinch My Salt: Taquitos de Papa, made with leftover mashed potatoes
Caroline at the Wright Recipes: Indian Spiced Potatoes with Chickpeas (Aloo Chole)
Paige at The Sister Project: French Fries to soothe a burnt-out cook’s soul
Margaret at A Way to Garden: Potato Growing, Curing and Storage Tips
Food Network UK: We like spuds
Alana at Eating From the Ground Up: The strange experience of growing potatoes
Cate at Sweetnicks: Bleu Cheese Potato Mashers
Gilded Fork: A roundup of potato recipes