April 26, 2011

Nautical potato cakes

AT SOME TIME IN MY CHILDHOOD I was fed potato cakes. I don’t remember where or when. All I remember is that they were delicious. Quite extraordinarily delicious.

I must have been very hungry at the time, for they made an impression on me that has lasted, lo, these many decades; and ever since then I have been engaged in a search for the recipe.

Over the years, my dear wife must have tried a dozen different recipes for potato cakes, but, alas, they have never achieved the high state of deliciousness that I remember so vividly.

I had, in fact, given up the search as a lost cause, reasoning that bland potato cakes can’t really be as delicious as all that, and writing off the whole original affair as a combination of impressionable youth and a stomach whose judgment was overwhelmed by its emptiness.

But yesterday I was reading an interesting little book called The Yachtsman’s Week-End Book, by John Irving and Douglas Service (Seeley Service & Co., London, 1938). It has many pages devoted to cooking at sea, and one of the recipes, for use in calm waters, came from Canada. It was for Potato Buns.

I naturally started salivating. I shall have to try it. It goes like this:

“Those left-over boiled potatoes again! Take a pound of them and put them on a well-floured board; break them up and roll them in plenty of flour, adding salt and pepper and a teaspoon of baking powder.

“Mix all this together with an egg and sufficient milk to make a stiff dough. Then roll the dough out about an inch thick on the board; over a slow flame, grill slowly in a greased frying pan. When done, cut in squares; split open and butter. The Greeks had a word for it.”

Although I don’t know the Greek word for delicious, I can’t help but hope that this nautical potato bun recipe deserves to be described that way.

Today’s Thought
The true gourmet, like the true artist, is one of the unhappiest creatures existent. His trouble comes from so seldom finding what he constantly seeks: perfection.
— Ludwig Bemelmans

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #191
The speed of vessels on salt water is measured in knots, and the knot is defined as one nautical mile per hour. It’s wrong, therefore, to refer to “knots per hour” because knots includes the hour. It’s also wrong to say 1830 hours. Hours is unnecessary. 1830 is enough. But that’s another matter.

A Japanese diplomat was the guest at a dinner party in New York. When the meal was over, the men withdrew to the lounge for coffee, brandy and cigars — but the guest remained with the women.
“Aren’t you going with the gentlemen?” asked the hostess.
“No madam,” he said, “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, and I don’t swear.” He sighed, “But then ... I’m not a Christian.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Aaron Headly said...

I add minced onion and call them latkes.

A little parsley or green onion makes them look nicer, too.

Anonymous said...

Funny joke at the end there John... I suppose you are one of those card carrying Atheists? :)

Aaron Headly said...

Oh, and I looked it up for you:
νόστιμα (nóstima)

Aaron Headly said...

I purchased a copy of The Yachtsman’s Week-End Book, and am enjoying it quite a bit. Thanks for the tip.

Steve Florman said...

"It’s also wrong to say 1830 hours. Hours is unnecessary. 1830 is enough. But that’s another matter."

I always hated that. Army and Air Force people say "hours." Naval personnel, including we former Marines, know that it's enough just to use the number. ;)