The Baileys have a tradition with potato soup. There are only two recipes in the tradition, both discovered years apart, but both are connected to epic family events.
When I was a kid we lived in Germany where my dad was stationed in the army. We lived in massive Eastern Bloc looking quarters featuring 24 apartments with a large laundry area and storage rooms in a huge common basement. Saving it from looking completely Soviet were balconies for each apartment and most people covered the iron grating with colorful canvas wraps. I had a wonderful time living there and still remember the address – 8818 3F, Fallingburg, Baumholder. It’s the only childhood address I remember.
In those days anyway, everything in the army was arranged by rank. Families were housed with others who were more or less the same rank. As it happens, everyone also turned out to be more or less the same age. 8818 was a busy, happy little hive of American kids and stay at home moms. It was in the basement laundry room, always buzzing with activity, that Mrs. Haley revealed she had hired a maid and was astonished with the result. Word spread rapidly that German maids were available in town at wages even a young lieutenant's wife could afford.
So we hired a maid who came by once a week. She was a friendly lady who spoke excellent English and helped a few times with my German assignments from school. My mother had visited a neighbor making a potato soup and asked the maid if she knew a good recipe. The nice maid kindly gave us her ancient recipe passed down for generations. My mom made it that night and it was an instant family favorite.
After a few months, my mom noticed things missing around the apartment - a little less coffee than she thought she had, lost earrings, little stuff. It didn’t take long before it came up over folding laundry and it turned out most everyone was missing little somethings. So the ladies of 8818 contacted the Provost Marshal and a hausfrau sting operation was put into play. A week later, getting off the OD green school bus, I watched as the MPs hauled away our maid in handcuffs, tears streaming down her face. My mother never got her high school ring back, but we did get a great potato soup.
Thievin’ Maid Potato Soup
8 potatoes, peeled.
2 stalks celery
1 stick butter
1 heaping tsp parsley
2 cups milk
Cut up potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, and parsley. Cover with water. Cook thoroughly.
When cooked, mash up until broken.
Add 2 cups milk or more to make good consistency.
If it needs thickening, add a bit of flour.
This is a straight ahead potato soup, a blank canvas that tastes great by itself or garnished with sausage slices, bacon bits, cheese, green onions, you know the drill.
Last year our daughters Amanda and Kathryn were chorus members in the Castle High School production of the musical version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. During lunch before opening night, the cast put on previews of the show for students in the cafeteria. As a transition before and after scenes the cast would move large set pieces on wheels in a flurry of manic activity. It was in the heat of performance that Kathryn sliced off the tip of her pinky by crushing it between two heavy set pieces. She actually didn’t realize it had happened and finished the song leaving a trail of blood wherever she had danced. Thanks to an afternoon in the ER (still dressed in a sparkly dance costume) and some emergency surgery, after weeks of rehearsal, Kathryn missed performing in the play. The cast dedicated Saturday night’s performance to her.
Coming home from the hospital, my wife Lora asked if she’d like something special for dinner. “Mrs. Williams’s potato soup,” she said. While visiting her friend Sarah, her mom, Alice Williams on occasion made potato soup. Kathryn’s request was monumental in my mind. I’d been eating the same potato soup since the Berlin Wall went up.
Reluctantly, I tried it. Upon several bowls of reflection, I've decided that Thievin’ Maid is a soup of the people – “peasant food,” as my brother-in-law likes to say, and it suits me. Alice’s potato soup would be at home in a silver tureen. It’s the best potato soup I’ve ever encountered and after the eating the entire Fall Festival, that's saying something. It suits me, too. In the end, both recipes are wonderful interpretations of a great German tradition and we switch back and forth between them. Guten appetit!
By the way, Kathryn’s pinky recovered nicely. She and Amanda are in the Castle production of Grease coming in November. Tickets on sale soon!
Severed Finger Potato Soup
6-7 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 small chopped onion
8 oz package of cream cheese, cut into cubes
1 ½ cups milk
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of celery soup
¼ cup butter
1 tsp garlic salt
Cover the potatoes and onion with water and cook until tender (don’t drain). Use only enough water to cover. When potatoes are tender, add cubes of cream cheese and stir until cream cheese is melted. Add milk, soups, butter and garlic salt. Cook a little longer. Serve it topped with shredded cedar, bacon and chopped green onions.
Rich, smooth, creamy, and loaded with flavor, this soup is simple to make but tastes like a million marks.