by Painted Dog
A short story - a bit of tongue in cheek about potatoes
For a potato
Who would have ever dreamed how some little unassuming tuber would one day become the cause of a terrible tragedy that would nearly cost Robbie his life? To understand this unfortunate incident we must travel back in time a little. Imagine if you will Peru sometime in 1532 AD, an exhausted Inca messenger is staggering along a mountain path, his legs burning with cramps and lactic acid. The path clings to the frowning massive of the Andes meandering along spine and ledge at an astounding three thousand metres above sea level. The man is carrying messages of an enemy, a powerful, cruel enemy which landed on the shores of the kingdom far to the north. The king Atahualpa has sent his messenger to call to arms all men of fighting age across the length and breadth of this vast ancient civilisation. The messenger stumbles into a tiny village clinging to the rocky bastions, there he is taken in and given a heart-warming bowl of papa soup – potato soup! Of course once the Conquistadors had done a thoroughly Christian job of annihilating the Incas and destroyed their civilisation, introducing small-pox and gonorrhea to the local population, enslaved, slaughtered, pillaged and raped in the name of a Spanish king, all for gold of course (could well have been for oil) they brought this obscure morsel back to Europe – and that is when the seeds of the down-fall of civilisation were planted.
We know this ancient food of course, it forms part of our daily indulgence. We see most of this plump tuber in the form of crisps, those wonderfully crunchy slices of deep fried, flash frozen, chemically dipped snacks. The second most popular variation of our bland friend is of course fries - in parts of the Great Western Civilisation, this is in fact a staple. With-out chips, wars cannot be started, games will not go on, and industries would come to a grinding halt. In fact a great deal of cuisine will not be served unless a side order of fries is on the plate. We have them jacketed, boiled, grilled and mashed - one needs to clarify the mashing of potatoes to those unfamiliar with simple cooking tasks- proper mashed potatoes are mashed with a knob of butter, creamy milk and a raw egg, with the smallest pinch of freshly ground nutmeg.
This versatile vegetable can accompany an assortment of dishes, but there are a couple that stand out. The staple food of Britain (including Free Scotland) is the famous Fish ‘n Chips, this scrumptious snack has fed the Britons since the 1600’s and is now standard fare especially on Fridays (a religious connection perhaps?) and of course after that high specialized pass-time for which all young Britons are so well know, binge drinking. Fish and chip shops are as common as pubs in England – in fact without the one the other wouldn’t survive. Of course, as with every little silver lining, there is a cloud – in the mid nineteenth century a terrible blight hit the potato crop in Ireland, eventually this tragedy was of such a magnitude that Irish landless, worker and peasant left their Emerald Isle to start new lives in the new country in the west – America. The odd thing about this plague, was that it originated in the United States – a coincidence again?
Tomes have been written, chefs have raged and ranted over newly discovered variations of tatties – but one of the holiest forms of this bland bulb is of course the roast potato. Now I would accept no argument only agreement, should you start a discussion on roast potatoes in any group, it would become heated and fiery. Potato fanaticism would reign, common sense would haste from the room, recipes would be shouted and fists would ring on table tops, wine sloshed and language deteriorate. No Sunday dinner, no Christmas turkey, no roasted beef nor lamb, nay not even a simple farmyard hen would settle quite so easily on you plate without the accompaniment of roast potatoes. To truly do justice to this adored dish, the potato should be gently washed in the freshest water, peeled so delicately the skins are translucent. Then, with surgical precision, the potatoes would be quartered and the par boiled in spring water with a dash of purest sea salt. Whilst the spuds a simmering, a generous table spoon of the best duck fat should be heating in a pan in the oven. Once the juicy little tubers are dried off they are shaken thoroughly in the pot to soften up the edges and only then do they go into that piping hot duck fat- in the oven at 180 degrees for forty minutes ( basting and turning at least twice) will produce veritable golden nuggets simply bursting with flavor.
I can already see eyebrows lifting and lips pursing, this especially amongst the new age nutritionists – potatoes are carbs, carbs are bad – rather roast smashed cauliflower – the cauliflower is being steamed and will served Au gratin you ponce! How can they take that gentlest of brassicas and treat it with such indignity? Next thing is they’ll tell you to knock up a creamy roux using bloody almond flower – forsooth! So having raced through the delicious history of this well-travelled tuber, we actually come to the whole point of this exercise.
It wasn’t a particularly joyous day that 14th of July, rain was sheeting down, carried on howling winds from the icy south. The cold pinched his nose and his breath caught as a nasty gust drove freezing rain into his face. He blinked slowly, his ears singing, in the distance someone was screaming, try as he might he couldn’t wipe the rain from his face. He growled with irritation, his brain struggling to make sense of why he seemed to be lying on his face, in the pouring rain, on the road -and that’s when the pain started. Crushing, bowel piercing pain - it rose from his legs and ripped through his old body, his body jerked in spasm and a scream clawed at his throat. The effort to control his pain caused him to start panting, far away a voice kept calling, then a hand touched his shoulder, he turned his head slowly squinting against the rain, and in the mist of his pain he saw his wife’s worried face peering down at him; “Robbie!” she cried “Can you hear me love?” he gasped as another burning spear of pain churned his body; “What happened?” he croaked, ”why am I lying down?”
“Lie quite still Robbie,” she whispered cradling his old head with her arm, “you have been in an accident, don’t worry love, help is on the way!” he choked back a sob, the pain was eating all his energy, he closed his eyes feeling the warm darkness of unconsciousness beckoning him. “Robbie! Robbie! Stay with me – open your eyes Robbie!” Bex shook him gently, terrified he would slip of into oblivion, “Stay awake love, help is here…” he cracked open his eyes, and saw uniformed figures bustling behind her shadow, then he fell asleep.
Robbie eventually regained contact with the known world three days and two long operations later, the heart monitor beeped annoyingly every few seconds, cables trailed out of his undersize hospital gown and tubes disappeared into the bed. A drip hung next to the bed, dripping, as drips do, another tube leading down to his left hand. Both his legs were hidden beneath a covered cage, he looked around the sterile room, in the corner of his eye he caught a subtle movement. The Bex lean over him kissing him on the forehead: “Hello Robbie’” she whispered gently, “you’re awake at last.” He looked at her, puzzled; “What happen Bex? Did I feint?” She smiled down at him, “no dear, you were run over in the parking lot.” he shook his head, then, slowly – like the sun creeping out after a bad storm, he remembered.
The roast was on, the veggies steaming and bubbling but – there were no potatoes! He swore again, vegetable racks lay open, draws half closed, he panted, “No bloody tatties!” he thought, “no good, for the lack of a tattie, my roast is lost, for the lack of a roast my head is lost..” he muttered another coarse epithet. Grabbing his keys and wallet he screamed out the house shouting out his intention and leapt into his car. He could remember only a blur of rushing into the grocer, waiting impatiently at the till, and then running out to the car-park. All he heard was a hooter and a scream, after that there was nothing. He sighed in resignation,” So how bad is it love?” he asked, she took his hand and a tear squeezed out of her one eye,” It’s bad Robbie, they had to replace your knees and the one ankle is still very mashed up.” They were disturbed by the busy entry of the surgeon on his rounds, the youngster looked down at the old man in the bed and smiled; “Well Robbie, I did tell you that potatoes were bad for you .. Ha! Ha!” Mr. Cameron chortled, Robbie smiled wryly, “Indeed” he answered.
So, what little kernel of wisdom do we draw from this tale? Nothing trite I think, perhaps never roast your potatoes until they are cooked, or many a roast has been laid to waste by a potato that was bought in haste. Pass the gravy please….