by Robert Mason Jr.
“Hot sweet potatoes and cracklin’ bread
“And Mulligan stew that’d turn a rich man’s head
“Backbone, turnip greens, lawd knows there’s nothin’ finer
“Than sittin’ down eatin’ at the Dixie Diner…”
If you’ve ever heard those immortal words recited by Larry Raspberry as an intro to “Dixie Diner,” followed by the instrumental of the same name performed by none other than Larry Raspberry and The Highsteppers in a small venue somewhere on the East Coast in the mid to late 70s, with Greg “Fingers” Taylor on the harmonica, you can taste the excitement.
I’m talking long before I ever heard Jimmy Buffett give it a whirl, and although he tried—well, he tried—but when someone says potato I can’t help but hear Larry Raspberry and the Highsteppers and it just makes me want to get up and dance.
So it was all I could do to keep my seat the other night when my dining companions, both ladies, started talking about potato preference.
Now heretofore I never gave potato preference much attention. But they tell me maybe that’s why I can’t keep a steady lady around.
Well, maybe that could become an icebreaker on a social media dating site, or flashback to the 70s—a pick up line: Hey there, good lookin’, what’s your potato preference?
I prefer scalloped. Not to be confused with au gratin, scalloped potatoes by definition are baked in a creamy sauce and covered with seasoned bread or cracker crumbs. Au gratin refers to potatoes covered with bread crumbs or cheese and then baked until brown. Cheese makes the difference.
My dinner companions leaned towards potato tots or mashed. Tots are shredded and formed then deep fried. The adult version might come smothered in cheese, barbecue, peppers, onions, tomatoes, bacon crumbles, or any combination. The juvenile version might be drenched in ketchup.
Meanwhile, your mashed potatoes pretty much speak for themselves. Cook potatoes, mash or blend them with milk or cream until they are smooth and creamy. Add butter salt and pepper to taste, with or without gravy. Garlic mashed potatoes are a revolving craze.
We three agreed that good baked potatoes can be appetizing. But, you’ve got to start with the fresh out-of-the-backyard-garden variety or a real honest-to-God baking potato. Apparently, they don’t grow them like they used to. Add butter, a dollop of sour cream, salt, pepper, bacon crumbles, sautéed mushrooms, onions, peppers, or even a little A.1. Steak Sauce. And eat the skin.
Fries open a whole new sack—shoestring, home cut with or without the skin, steak fries, crinkle cut, waffle fries. And there’s a whole passel of seasonings, toppings and dipping sauces to choose. But one thing’s for sure, naked fries just won’t cut it with my chow-down crew. And chips are out unless they come with a tunafish sandwich, they are barbecue flavored, or you’ve got some good dip around.
We’ve only glazed the surface. Add hash browns, fried potatoes, corned beef hash, boiled potatoes, potato soup, potato skins, potato salad or potato cakes.
And then there are the sweet potatoes. You can do most anything to a sweet potato you would to an Idaho or a Russet.
There are some 200 types of potatoes sold throughout the U.S., so the possibilities are endless. Dig in.