Creamy Potato Soup and Other Meanderings about Potatoes

 

dad-sue
Dad taught me how to work, and work hard. This was taken on an afternoon when I stopped by his work to say hello. I was nineteen and boy was my hair curly!

 

Growing up in Idaho in the heart of potato country means not only did I eat potatoes nearly every day of my life, and sometimes twice a day, but they were a part of the landscape, literally. Acres and acres of potato fields were everywhere, and each fall, school would be recessed for a two-week potato harvest, vacation. But, let me tell you, for many of us, it wasn’t a vacation, but it was the opportunity to work. I worked every year from the time I was thirteen. First, babysitting — six kids for .35 cents an  hour, for 10-hour days. It doesn’t sound like much, does it? But for a thirteen-year old in the 70s, it was a tidy sum, enough to buy some new school clothes, and have money to eat, uptown, instead of eating school lunch.

When I was a little older, I graduated to working on the digger. The potato digger, does just what the name implies, it digs up the potatoes, shakes the dirt off through a series of rollers, and dumps them into a truck. However, vines come with potatoes, and my job was to pull the vines out of the potatoes so they didn’t end up in the truck. It was hot, boring work, and in some cases, rocks, sticks, and clods of dirt made their way across the rollers, and had to be removed, too. The worst though was when we got into a patch of quack grass. It was heavy, dense, and bogged things down. Removing quack grass was hard work. We worked long

We worked long days and I earned what I thought was a decent wage. I remember the first fellow I worked for, Arden Klinger — a tough old farmer; who was sometimes rather gruff with his teenaged crew. He paid us what was owed at the end of the harvest, and I was thrilled with a check for over $100. A few weeks later, my dad handed me another check for $100, with regards from Mr. Klinger, who told him I was, “the best damn worker I’ve ever had.”   That wasn’t the end of my potato harvest days, but it was where I learned the rewards of working hard. I think I was more excited about my father’s pleasure in the compliment than I was in receiving the extra money (though, upon reflection, that may have been a toss up).

The year after the flood (when the Teton Dam collapsed),  there was no harvest, in the valley; the following year, though, there were any number of random things coming across the rollers with the potatoes.  Baby shoes, kitchen utensils, bits of clothing,  broken glass, all kinds of random things.

I also worked cutting spuds during the spring; cutting spuds is what creates seed potatoes which are then planted for the new year’s crop. Each piece of potato has two have at least two “eyes” on it. We’d sit around in a potato quanset hut, and work for eight hours a day, cutting potatoes up. It was tedious work, but hey, I was earning my own money.

Later on, after graduating from high school, I got my first “real job” in a potato factory — and after working there, I determined that I would stay away from dehydrated potato products. Don’t ask why. In fact, after working there, and going on to college,  didn’t even make potato dishes for several years after I was married. But, a growing family, and the realization that potatoes are an inexpensive, nutritionally complete food, changed my mind, and I too, relied on potatoes for many a meal.

Potatoes are a versatile vegetable, and there are many ways to use them. I think I’ve probably had them just about every way imaginable. I guess it’s one of those things that happens when you grow up in Idaho in the middle of potato country. We ate potatoes nearly every day. Sometimes twice a day. Boiled, fried, mashed, baked, in a salad, or deep fried, hashed, scalloped, or in a funeral potato casserole. . .. potatoes are delicious.

Creamy Potato Soup

Ingredients

1 onion – chopped

3-4 stalks (ribs) of celery, chopped

5 – 6 medium sized potatoes peeled, rinsed,  and cubed

1 carrot, peeled and shredded (set aside)

1 cube butter (divided into 1/4 and 3/4 of a cube)

flour

milk or half-n-half or a mixture (about 3 cups)

4-8 oz mild cheddar cheese cubed (optional)

Salt and Pepper (I like sea salt and freshly ground pepper) to taste

Directions

Cook potatoes in a large pot of salted (about a tsp.) water. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a brisk simmer. Cook until they are nearly tender and can be pierced by a fork (about 20 minutes). While the potatoes are cooking, saute onions and celery in the 1/4 cube of butter , set aside.

Drain potatoes in colander. Set aside.

To make the sauce melt 3/4 cube of butter in heavy pan over medium heat being careful not to let it burn. When butter is melted, add flour about 1/3 c. all at once and use a whisk to mix until smooth, adding a bit of milk at a time to create a sauce. (Whisk the entire time, or it will become lumpy.) Let sauce thicken, add more milk, continue this process until you’ve added about two cups of milk.  Reduce heat to low. Add vegetables to white sauce, add cheese and stir until melted. Add additional milk/half-half to cover vegetables. (If soup is too thin, whisk an additional 1/4 cup of flour into 1/2 c of milk, and add to hot soup. Add the reserved carrots the last few mintues of simmering for a splash of flavor and color. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with cornbread, crackers, toast, or muffins.

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