Family history in church cookbooks

Author J. Ryan Stradal shares his great-grandmother’s recipe for potato patties

Photo: Daytona Strong These simple potato patties are a great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes.

Photo: Daytona Strong
These simple potato patties are a great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes.

Daytona Strong
Norwegian American Weekly

Countless stories and memories live between the lines and hide between the pages of church cookbooks. In my quest to find any remaining recipes from my late grandmother, Agny, I’ve had better luck in those old community cookbooks than anywhere else, managing to track down two of the three recipes I now have to her name.

For this week’s issue I interviewed author J. Ryan Stradal about his debut novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest. The book weaves lovingly-crafted portraits of Midwesterners as they encounter everything from lutefisk to chocolate habanero into a story of family as the protagonist, Eva Thorvald, grows up to become a celebrated chef (see From lutefisk to chocolate habanero: Midwest ingredients infuse delicious novel). When I asked Stradal for a recipe to feature in Taste of Norway, he pointed me to the potato patties in a church cookbook in his own family’s history.

These potato patties are credited to his great-grandmother, Lois Bly Johnson, in the 1984 edition of the First Lutheran Church Women Cookbook (Hunter, North Dakota). They start with a base of cold mashed potatoes, which if you don’t have leftovers already, can be made easily: A couple of hours before you want to start, peel and cut two russet potatoes into 1 1/2-inch cubes, then place in a pot of cold, salted water and bring to a boil. Simmer until absolutely tender, and drain. Combine a tablespoon or two of butter and a good pour of cream in a small saucepan to heat, then add to the potatoes and mash, taking care to not overwork the potatoes. Taste and adjust salt if necessary, then refrigerate until cold. You’ll have enough mashed potatoes for the patties with a little left over for the next day’s lunch.

The patties themselves are simple, too: just mashed potatoes with a handful of seasonings, comfort in a palm-sized disk. When I tested the recipe, I took the butter almost to the point of browning, and as I placed the patties in the pan to bathe in the butter, the aroma filled my kitchen with a scent that countless home cooks have inhaled over centuries. The base of much of cooking, that warm, nutty scent of butter, always promises something delicious to come.

Photo: Daytona Strong

Photo: Daytona Strong

Potato Patties
Recipe from Lois Bly Johnson, First Lutheran Church Women Cookbook, 1984 edition
2 cups cold mashed potatoes
1 beaten egg
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 tsp. salt
dash of pepper
2 tbsps. melted butter

Mix all ingredients together. Form into patties and brown in the hot butter. Makes six patties. Good way to use leftover mashed potatoes.

Daytona Strong is a Seattle-based food writer and recipe developer. She writes about her family’s Scandinavian heritage through the lens of food at Find her on Facebook; Twitter @daytonastrong; Pinterest @daytonastrong; and Instagram @daytonastrong.

This article originally appeared in the July 24, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.