I’m third generation American with three of my four grandparents born in the greater New York City area. It was my great grandparents who came across the ocean to “the next parish west” from Ireland. They left Ireland in the second half of the 19th century, in the period of diaspora that followed the potato famine. My Grandmother Josie ran away at sixteen to attend the Motormen’s Ball though her father forbid it. She married the trolley conductor, before she tried to return, but her father never forgave her for picking that Dutchman to be her husband. He refused to let her enter his house again, even when she returned with his first grandchild, a boy. So my Grandmother learned more about cooking from her German mother-in-law than her Irish mother. But cooking wasn’t her first interest by any means. She preferred singing, dancing and playing the piano.
My Mom told me how much she enjoyed visiting her grandmother (the German one) in Greenpoint. She described going to that part of Brooklyn as going to the country, because there was farmland there. Though the photo shows her on a sunny summer day she particularly remember a fall day when she and her older brother were allowed to leave the house and explore Greenpoint a little. In an open field near by, they watched boys tossing potatoes into a open fire. They boys knocked the ashes off each potato as it was done, pierced it with a stick to lift it up and allow it to be held. They handed a potato on a stick to her brother. He blew on it a lot, before offering her a share. She found the potato with its smoky warmth particularly delicious.
That memory was sweet and clear, but it triggered another one, less so. In the depression, when these local lads had grown up, many were out of work and took to selling things on street corners. There were so many Irishmen with fire-baked potatoes in their jackets for sale, that the taters took on the nickname of Mickies. After telling that story, I am inclined not to think about the Mickies’ more overstuffed American cousin, the fully-loaded baked potato but to appreciate the pleasure of a simple, straightforward oven baked potato with a crusty, crunchy, salty skin and a tender flesh that mashes to the touch of the fork and runs with rivulets of butter. Don’t even think of microwaving it! The taste and texture are entirely different.
Potatoes Baked in their Jackets
- 1 baking potato russet
- 1 tsp salt kosher
- 2 tsp salted butter Kerrygold
- Select long potatoes without green spots.Preheat oven to 375. Scrub the potatoes with a brush, rinse, pat off any dripping water but leave damp. Roll in coarse salt. You will get a crisp and crunchy crust to the potato.Prick deeply with the tines of a fork (to keep the water turned to steam from exploding.) Bake for an hour, check by pressing with a potholder. If the potato gives to your touch, it’s ready to take out of the oven.Prick each potato deeply with the tines of a fork in a line along the top of the potato. Disturbing as little of the salt crystals as possible, push in each side of the potato from below the line, splitting it open the long way.Place a pat of butter in the opening. If you have and like chopped chives or green onions, sprinkle them over the butter. Pass salt and pepper and more butter at the table.