I was eight or nine. I had a cookbook my Aunt Martha had given me for Christmas. Mom was in the basement, conducting a Cub Scout meeting. I was bored (stuck in the house and unable to attend the Cub Scout Meeting). I wanted something meaningful to do. I wanted to make my mom happy. Even that long ago I somehow knew she wasn’t really happy.
My mom had set my cookbook on the shelf with her cookbooks, making mine legit. 🙂 I looked in the refrigerator. There were hot dogs and there were always potatoes. “I just don’t feel it’s supper without potatoes on the table,” my mom said more than once.
I turned the pages to see how to cook hot dogs and potatoes. I found a thing called “Potatoes Anna.” When it was all over, I realized that Potatoes Anna are fried potatoes, but different from the way my mom usually made them. They are sliced rather than diced. I thought that was pretty fancy. I’d seen my mom fry potatoes hundreds of times, but I’d never read instructions for cooking them. For that matter, I’d never read a recipe before.
I got out two iron skillets, one for the hotdogs and one for the potatoes. I put margarine in both pans and turned on the heat on our turquoise (it was 1961) electric stove.
I sliced the potatoes on the cutting board as instructed by my cookbook (my mom never did that) and put them in the larger pan. I then poured 1/4 cup of water into the pan (my mom never did that but the recipe said to) and I put the lid on the pan. I had no idea of timing — not much idea of time, when it came down to it. I wasn’t very tall, either. Maybe I’d achieved 4 feet by then. Appliances, countertops, all those things are designed for grownups but…
I started cooking.The potatoes went into the skillet — it never occurred to me that once it was filled I might not be able to lift it high enough to achieve the final step which was lifting the skillet and draining off the excess water! (My mom never did that…) very easily. It wouldn’t be easy for me to return the skillet to the stove for the final drying-out and browning of said potatoes, either.
Things got a little too hot under the hot dogs and the potatoes. Even down in the basement, my mom could smell stuff cooking. I guess she put the little boys to work doing something, because she appeared in the kitchen.
“What’s going on, Martha Ann?”
“I’m cooking supper.”
She looked at the stove, at the two pans and the lid.
“I’m cooking hot dogs and Potatoes Anna.”
“What’s ‘Potatoes Anna’?”
“It’s in my cookbook.” Then she saw the cookbook open on the counter. She glanced at the recipe.
“No, mom. Potatoes Anna.”
“Turn down the heat. You’re going to burn the house down.”
I did as she told me. I knew it smelled kind of burny in there.
“And turn on the fan. Let’s see the hot dogs.”
They actually looked OK.
“Turn the heat way down on those, honey. Your dad won’t be home for twenty minutes.”
I did as she said.
“OK, I’m going back downstairs. I have no idea what those boys might be doing now.”
They could not be very destructive in an all-concrete Nebraska tract house basement in November, but…
When it was time (according to the recipe) for the Potatoes Anna to be done, I lifted the heavy skillet off the stove, carried it carefully over to the sink and “drained” the absolutely nothing. It was a big mess because I couldn’t hold the pan very high, and I couldn’t easily hold the lid against the pan and a few potatoes fell into the sink. Most of the water had long ago evaporated and the potatoes were a little dark, not burned, exactly, but not, you know, golden brown.
When my dad got home, we ate this supper. Everyone enjoyed it and my mom realized she’d hit the “daughter lode” so to speak. She then taught me to cook and from that evening on, I had a hand in supper. The payoff was immense. Among other rewards, in high school, I got consistently got A’s in Home Ec. Doesn’t sound like much, but those A’s brought my grade over the “hump” from a B average to B+ so I was able to join the National Honor Society with the rest of my friends, some of whom grew up to be rocket scientists.