Mashed potatoes have always held a VIP spot in my life. I remember loving my grandmother’s version so much and telling my mom I wished she could make them the same way. She scoffed and told me that Grandma’s were instant and hers were real. True enough, but it was the 70s and through no fault of my own I was living on bologna and Wonder Bread and Banquet fried chicken, and instant potatoes made by my grandma seemed pretty great. The secret, she told me, was warm milk in place of water.
As I got older I continued to love mashed potatoes. Potatoes in any form, really. Tots at school. The most amazing french fries (seasoning salt for days!) at Ollie’s Trolley. And my mom’s homemade potato soup. My veins run white with potato carbs thrumming along blissfully. Needless to say I have the shape of someone who’s grown up loving potatoes. But, on the up side, I haven’t gotten scurvy, so it seems like a reasonable balance.
Over a nine-month period last year I lost one of my closest friends. She lived in another town and I would drive down to spend days and some nights with her. PB and J was her usual go-to at home. but as she got sicker she ate less and less. One day I offered to make her mashed potatoes, and she said that sounded good. I put water on to boil, scrubbed and cubed potatoes, and thought about how this process of making mashed potatoes for my friend connected me to not only her, but also my mom.
She made mashed potatoes for me all the times I had strep throat, tonsillitis, and finally when I had my tonsils removed. As I poured milk and added butter for my friend’s batch the sound of beaters against the glass bowl took me right back to being on the couch, sipping ginger ale, and listening to public radio as Mom made me comfort food.
My friend finished two helpings that first time I made them for her and I was surprised at how happy that made me. The oxytocin boost I generated by being able to make her feel better, even just for that half hour, was profound.
One of the last visits I had with her she asked me if I would make her some mashed potatoes. I was honored. I felt less helpless, less like a witness to a simultaneously slow- and fast- moving illness, and more like a helper, Florence Nightingale with an electric mixer. It’s a memory I have of my friend that soothes me.
I just finished watching Tig Notaro’s 2015 special called Tig, and around the fifteen-minute mark she’s talking about her mom’s sense of humor, how she would dye the mashed potatoes blue when guests came for dinner. Tig says her mom whispered to her that she was doing it and not to tell. As Tig tells this, she smiles, a big, happy-mashed-potato-mom-story smile that I paused on for a minute. I wanted to see that feeling in her eyes. Because I know that feeling. The magical mashed potato feeling that I’ve gotten so many times in my life.
It’s no surprise that mashed potatoes are the go-to comfort food for so many people. They’re loaded with feel good stuff, including vitamins C and B6, carbs, and for a lot of us, good memories. There’s even a mashed potato scented candle on Etsy, which I find genius. I can get all the feels without all the peels!
I’ve never had blue mashed potatoes, at least not dyed blue. But I’m planning on it now. I imagine they’ll make me smile, maybe even taste a little better than plain old buttery-white potatoes. I’ll remember my mom and my friend, how mashed potatoes gave us all some comfort. And no scurvy.