While on the hunt for a recipe for scalloped potatoes, I come upon this one for “Long Branch Milk Potatoes.” No one knows who made it up, but God bless them! (It was printed in the Fresno Republican in July of 1879, so trying to get in touch with the author and congratulate them would, I feel, be a fruitless endeavour.)
The endearing quality of the recipe lies in the wonderful vagueness of its directions. Have a look:
“Take good, sound potatoes, cut them in slices (raw) and put the milk, according to the quantity you wish to make, in a pudding dish; then after you have put the potatoes in the milk, put it in the oven for about 20 minutes; then take out and put potatoes, with the same milk, into a saucepan to boil until done; season before you put them to boil.”
To the anally retentive, lock-step recipe followers, such a recipe may lead them to an intense session of wailing and teeth gnashing. This would then be followed by a string of profanity-laced questions such as:
(NOTE: I’ve edited out the profanity.)
How do you define the difference between a sound and unsound potato?
What kind of potato? Magic Molly? Purple Majesty? Yukon Gold?
How thick are the slices? 1/4”? 1”? 3.256”?
“To the quantity you wish to make?” I wish to make the right amount, so how much is the right amount?
“Season” before you put them to boil? Season with what? Smoked Paprika? Red pepper flakes? Organic Amazonian salt?
To those who ask such questions of this recipe, I say, RELAX! Instead of relying upon obediently following blow-by-blow instructions, take a deep breath, and let your instincts take over.
I ask you, who wants a recipe to turn out the same way time after time? Embrace uncertainty! Embrace a little too much salt, not quite enough milk, and just a little over-baked. Regard each iteration of a recipe as a once-in-a-lifetime gastronomic experience. Know that each bite you take will never be replicated again for as long as you chew and swallow upon this earth. Jump off a kitchen counter and attempt to cook by the seat of your pants!