Snowflake potatoes were a regular offering

Snowflake potatoes were a regular offering

I ran across a menu from a swanky hotel online last week, laying out what was to be served for Christmas dinner sometime in the 1920s. Included were “snowflake mashed potatoes.” Were they instant potatoes, from flakes, I wondered?

Being nosy, I looked it up. I learned snowflake mashed potatoes are not instant things made from flakes, but something we have been serving at my family’s special affair dinners for years without knowing it had a name.

Up through about the mid-1950s, snowflake mashed potatoes were a regular offering on menus for nicer hotels, trains, ships and restaurants. They are simply mashed potatoes with sour cream and cream cheese beaten in along with the milk and butter. We like them that way, cholesterol be darned. No matter what main course we end up having for Christmas, inadvertent snowflake mashed potatoes will be on the menu.

A dish that gains a name well known enough to appear on official menus for 30 years has some legitimacy. But I wonder about all those dishes that are named by moms just casting about for a way to entertain their young children. Are they less legitimate?

A friend used to speak of “ting-a-lings.” Her mother served them when she was a child, and it was a dish she never forgot. They were just pancakes rolled up and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Presto: ting-a-lings.

Then there was the mom of a friend who was born in Northumberland in the U.K. who I remember making something I think she called “broat snorts.” They were blobs of bread dough deep fried briefly in hot lard. In some circles, that would be pretzels or maybe doughnuts. But as broat snorts, they were more delicious than either, and to think of them now brings up all the memories of this wonderful woman and her kitchen filled with love.

I can see the giant kettle on the burner, the table in the middle of the small kitchen and the smiles in abundance.

Moms get too little credit for invention. It must surely start early when babies just begin to grasp something to eat and bring it roughly to the vicinity of their mouths. The child, smearing spaghetti or Jell-O or pudding all over themselves, probably vocalizes something unintelligible but irresistibly cute and a newly named dish is born. A moment ago it was pancakes. Now it’s ting-a-lings. This naming process must surely account for snickerdoodle cookies.

The memories of this kind of inventiveness keep our relatives close over distances and time. Long after your mom has passed, her culinary invention will be remembered by her great-grandchildren, even if they don’t connect the source. That’s a family. It’s why we hold onto traditions and stories and weird names for things and repeat the tales for new arrivals, even as their eyes glass over in boredom.

We’ve had a hard year, haven’t we? We started the year wondering nothing more serious than how severe the weather might be, and here we are reading of the mass graves of 21st-century plague victims and a death toll approaching 300,000.

We’re craving the hugs of family and friends and the chance to have a simple, quiet meal with the people we love without worrying about masks or risks or what people might think of us daring to gather.

We’re approaching the year’s end and the chance to begin anew with fresh goals and resolutions. I hope you’ve had a very Merry Christmas and have found new traditions and ways to connect. And may we pass 2021 learning to make sourdough bread because we want to and not because we have nothing else to do in our cooped-up lives.

Merry Christmas to you and yours, and your ting-a-lings, broat snorts and snowflake mashed potatoes.

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