(Excerpted from I Smell a Memory, by Joanne S. Bishop 2003)
What is your earliest memory of the mouth-watering smell of something good? For me, it came on a cold winter’s day, several weeks after my uncle and his new wife came to live with us. They were married in October of 1939 and times were hard on newlyweds then, just before the USA went into WWII, so they settled into one of our bedrooms and shared the kitchen until they could find and afford a place of their own. Though I was just under four years old, I can remember most of the first-hand observations I made of some of the different ethnic practices of the first non-Italian member of our family – Uncle Mike’s wife, Lee, who was of German descent.
On this particularly frosty day, some time in November, I had crawled up on our living room sofa to look out of the window and watch big flakes of snow fall through the beam of the street lights that had just flickered on against the gloom of the late afternoon, when I was drawn by a magnetic aroma that wafted from the kitchen where Aunt Lee was preparing their dinner. Jumping down from the couch, I scooted from the living room, maneuvered around our big dining room table and on sturdy three-year old legs, followed the mysterious (potatoy/oniony) smell – different from anything I had ever caught scent of cooking in our home before.
In the kitchen, I watched has as she pulled a casserole from the oven to test the potatoes that, nestled in a creamy, white sauce, were beginning to turn golden brown on top. That, alone, was enough to stop me in my tracks. Cook with milk?? Never, in my short years of experience in that Italian family; they would talk about it for months to come. Uncle Mike would surely starve! She gave me some, though, when it was all tender and golden, and I was hooked for life.
Bolstered by the fact that Uncle Mike had not yet starved to death (or been poisoned), the rest of the group finally worked up the courage to try her casserole at one of our picnics. They mobbed her for the recipe!
Aunt Lee’s Scalloped Potatoes
(Serves 4 to 6)
Preheat Oven to 375 degrees; Bake casserole on a foil-lined cookie sheet to catch any boil spill-over. Generously butter bottom and sides of a 9 x 13 glass baking dish.
4 Large Russett Potatoes – peel, slice thinly and place into a bowl of cold water 1 Large onion – peel and slice thinly
Mix together 1/2 cup Flour, 1 Tablespoon salt and 1 Teaspoon pepper
Add 4 Tablespoonfuls of melted Butter to 2 cups whole milk (substitutions for even creamier potatoes: 2 cans Evaporated Milk or 1 Quart of Cream)
Drain the potatoes well, overlap a layer on the bottom of the baking dish. Place some onions on top of the potatoes. Sprinkle the flour/seasoning mixture over the potato/onion layer. Repeat: potato layer, onion layer, seasoned flour layer – until all are used.
Pour the milk/butter mixture over all to cover (you may need to add more milk or cream to bring the volume up to cover all layers).
Tightly seal with foil or lid. Bake 1 hour at 375. Lower heat to 325 and remove cover to allow the top to brown and all is tender (approx. 45 more minutes).