Sunday, 18 September 2011

My Proustian potato cake

For Proust it was madeleines; for me it’s potato cakes.  Well, okay, I'm talking about university while Proust was lurching to childhood but the Proustian scent of childhood for me is, bathetically, creosote and, sorry, but I’m not going into that here and now.  
Potato cakes on the other hand...  A big box arrived last week and we fell on it like starving shipwrecked people (which, actually, sums us up pretty well).  Food parcel!  Huzzah! Tally ho!  And not the usual sweets or popcorn or lollies but the very staff of life. Good old Bakestone had sent us enough baked goods to feed the proverbial (or should that be miraculous?) five thousand.  Big loaves, rolls, muffins, scones, buns…you name it…but what I grabbed - lasciviously - elbowing aside my child even - were the potato cakes.
I grew up in suburban South London.  We didn’t eat potato cakes there. I’d never even heard of the things until I went ‘up North’ to university in Manchester.  In our second year, six of us rented a house in Whalley Range:  three girls, three boys and a neurotic kitten called Guinevere (not my fault – Sig was heavily into Arthurian romance and technically she had installed the creature and claimed naming rights.)  What we hadn’t realised, as we naively took our keys from our toe-rag of a landlord, was that there was a seventh room.  And in that seventh room lived four people (a tired looking woman, her young pretty boyfriend and her two children) plus three ferrets and the most depressed cat I have ever met – named, suitably, Blue.
Image by Chris Steele-Perkins/Magnum
I hadn't had a wealthy childhood, to put it mildly.  We were ‘hard up’ (as in I was the kid who got free school meals, free bus pass, coupons for school uniform and so on) but I’d not seen the kind of poverty that literally stunts children’s growth.  The older boy was 13 (if I recall) but he looked about eight.  He used to take the ferrets to Victoria Park to go rabbiting – in the hopes of getting some protein for the pot.  He used to shoot rats out of the window (and we half-suspected they went in the pot too).  But mainly the family lived on potato cakes. 
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, they’re not really cakes per se.  They're not a pancake, not a fritter, not a rissole, not a farl...they're...ah, the hell with it, here's a recipe…make 'em yourselves. 
Potato Cakes
150g mashed potato; 80g plain flour; salt and pepper (I like black; some prefer white). 
Season the mash and add flour to form a soft dough. Flour your worktop and roll out the dough to about 6mm thickness then flour the surface of the dough and cut into 5cm diameter circles.
Heat a non-stick pan without oil and gently brown the potato cakes.
Got it?  Now all you do is score the top lightly and slather on butter.  Utterly delicious.  But hardly a balanced diet huh? 
Anyhow.  The potato cakes got me on a memory jag and I was right back there, a skinny girl with long red hair and hurt eyes. 19 years old and neurotic as hell: physically fearless yet emotionally cauterised. My room was at the very top of the house, the old attic, shaped like a coffin with a balcony that looked out over a tree-lined street.  Our neighbours were mainly prostitutes – soft-hearted women who searched the streets when our cat went missing. The woman opposite said she’d seen the Yorkshire Ripper; that she’d told the police but they hadn’t come quickly enough.  And she called the police again when she thought I’d hanged myself – one of us (I forget who) had hung a life-size Batman in the hallway window.  We hadn’t realised how it looked, shadow-form, back-lit, head lolling to one side, from the street below. 
I overdosed on culture – saw so many films, so much theatre, so many bands, so very many bands.  Listened to albums in my room, wrote appalling poetry watched by baleful Blue.  Ah…but hey, enough already.  You don’t need to see my old life; that funny mixed-up muddled-up girl I was once…
Back to Bakestone.  I have to be honest (because, truly, life is pretty crap if you can’t even be honest on your own blog, isn’t it?) their bread isn’t really my bag.  I like my loaf earthy, shall we say…sort of like solid oblong muesli, stuffed with seeds and nuts; the kind that wags its finger sternly at your bowels and then puts them through an army assault course. Adrian, on the other hand, goes for freshly cooked baguettes, straight from the local bakers. But James, has to be said, loved Bakestone, the whole fell kaboosh of it and is lobbying for more.  But I did scarf the potato cakes. :)
Memory eh?  Funny thing.  Bodyworkers know it can be held in muscle, in fascia, in the bone.  You can press a point and jump back in time, clear as day. But then, hey, it’s also in the nose, in the tastebuds, in the fingertips. And – riddle me this - how can some sensory experiences you come across be so so familiar, when you are pretty damn sure you’ve never had them before? 
Where are your memories held?  What transports you to a different time, a different place?  

And, because music can do it too - here's one of the tracks that hurtles me back to that room (and, incidentally, I used to share a house with the bass player on this clip - but years later and in London - yeah, go Vern!) 
And this... (no, no Tom Petty stories)

btw, check out Bakestore's Facebook page for recipes and stuff...


Rachel Selby said...

We live on potato cakes - I make them all the time, with added vegetables inside. Love 'em!

@homedad said...

Sounds delicious! Going to give them a try soon! Keep up the good work :)

Anne Wareham said...

My mother used to make us cheesey potato cakes for supper - just add loads of grated cheddar and fry: I must have some again! Was one of my favourite suppers.


Milla said...

sound lovely Jane, but, oh, NO!! word verif is doggi.
what happened to that poor family? How did 10 such disparate humans co-exist? and that's before factoring in Batman and the ferrets.

serendipity_viv said...

I now have a craving for potato cakes. Something I have never eaten in my life!

Exmoorjane said...

MS: Are they more like a fritter though? Do you add flour (I know, unusual for me to ask recipe questions but I do love potato cakes). :)

Homedad: nice to see you, thanks for dropping by.. Good work? I'll, um, try...

Anne: stop it! Sounding even more delicious by the second... :)

Milla: Don't...I dunno...probably all dead. When I think back, we were SO feckless... could surely have done SOMETHING? :( Was very surreal - particularly the parties in the Satanist cellar..but that's another story.. :)

Exmoorjane said...

Vivienne: Sorry... but you know, you should... everybody should. Total comfort food. God, I love spuds. :)

Anonymous said...

Now craving potato cakes.
I've eaten very little the last few days but might send the daughter down to Tescos to search for some.
I don't have a food memory but I do remember my mum opening a jar of apple pie spices and getting lost in memories of her grandmother's baking.

Ivy said...

And I thought your blog was a safe place for someone living on vegetables broth and fruit juice...... but it might turn me into what WV asks me to type: a dishypet :D