Grady watched me haul the old trailer, really not much more than a heavily dented silver box, into the corner of our yard, unhitch it from the truck and carefully drive away. I saw him shaking his head on the porch and decided to ignore him as long as I could.
“What is this?” he asked me later. We sat in the parlor, surrounded by our books and the property was quiet, the dogs asleep with the cat. I kept my head in my book. “Is this another thing? About Betty?”
I glanced out the window. Even though it was dark and I couldn’t see a a thing, it made me feel better knowing the silver box was out there. How could I explain that to Grady when I couldn’t even explain it to myself? “You barely knew her,” he insisted. “You didn’t even go to the funeral.”
He was right about half those things. When Mama called to tell me, I barely had time to finish the conversation, let alone board a flight to Kent. I press the corner of the book into my round belly as if it can squash the shame. “She had a fallout shelter. I tell you that?”
“No. She did?”
“Yeah.” I shifted in my seat and the dogs lifted their heads. “She’d let us play down there when we went over for dinner. I couldn’t get over all the stuff down there, all the cans and rations. She had enough for an army.” My grandmother was a nearly silent woman and lived alone. She had spindly arms and a hunched back, even as a younger woman. As a child, I marveled at the giant bags of potatoes at the foot of the ladder, in a neat pile; how had she hauled them down there? When she brought bowls of steaming soup to the table, her hands shook.
I asked Mama once why she had the shelter and Mama shrugged in that agitated way that tells you this was the short answer for a long conversation, “It makes her feel better, Annette.” And then she shook her head and tapped her cigarette out the window. “Because she’s a crazy person.”
“Are we really,” Grady said with a shake of his own head, “Going to be those people with an old trailer in our yard?”
“We are,” I said and my voice was firmer than either of us expected. I gripped the edge of the book and imagined how Grandma Betty felt when things shakier than usual and she climbed down the steel stairs, surrounded by everything she needed. I imagined filling the trailer myself, lining the shelves with cans, storing bags of potatoes in the corners. I took a deep breath.
Welcome to our first heritage recipe!
Nicole and I were discussing what we’d like to do with this space and agreed that the idea of modernizing classic recipes appealed to us both. We’re going to be searching for recipes that are passed down through generations or have relevance in a particular time/place, trying them out and tweaking them to our particular tastes. Some will be from our own families, some from chefs but mostly from home-cooks around the country. If you have a family recipe you’d like us to try, we hope you’ll share it with us!
We chose this Simple Potato Soup because it’s winter, everything is white and classic comfort food felt like a great place to start. Also as a result of researching this recipe, I now am the leading expert on evaporated milk so feel free to ask me anything. (Did you know it was first called Sterilized Cream? Good job guys- perfect name. Don’t change a thing.)
Simple Potato Soup with Honey & Sea Salt
Origins: Popular among grandmothers and great-grandmothers, recipe likely originates from the can of evaporated milk in the 20s and 30s. Evaporated milk debuted in America in 1899 as a safe, shelf-stable alternative to unregulated milk. Original recipes boast little more than potatoes, onion, flour, butter and evaporated milk- we found it a little bland and added a little sweetness, boosted the salt. You can do a lot of things to potato soup but there’s something even more comforting about stripping it down and keeping it simple. Substitutions for evaporated milk can be found below.
Makes: 4 Servings | Print Recipe
2 Pounds of russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks about 1 1/2”
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 Tablespoons of all purpose flour
Salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
1/2 Stick of salted butter
Water to cover
1 (12 oz) Can of evaporated milk*
2 Tablespoons of honey
Grilled bread for serving
- Toss the potatoes with the onion, our, salt and pepper and set aside to rest about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter in a soup pot. Add the potato mixture to the pot and stir to coat. Add enough water to cover the potatoes and bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, stir in the milk, reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered about 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally.
- Taste, adjust salt and pepper, and continue simmering uncovered until soup reaches desired consistency and thickness. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until some chunks still remain. Stir in honey to taste and serve with grilled bread.
*Substitutions for evaporated milk: Boil 2 and 1/4 milk down to 1 cup (Grandma: Who has time to do that? Just buy the can!) You can also do the same to almond milk, 2 cups down to 1 cup (Grandma: Almond milk? What in tarnation is that? Hippie nonsense?) Or split between milk and half & half (Grandma just shakes her head.)