Theodora “Teddy” Bernier probably cooks potatoes two or three times a week.
They’re a staple in her Spokane kitchen, which doesn’t much resemble the one of her childhood home, a Wisconsin farmhouse that sat on some 177 acres and didn’t see electricity until the late 1940s, when Bernier was about 8 years old.
She was the youngest of 11 children in a farm family that pickled and preserved, raising their own cattle, corn, oats, hay, herbs and vegetables.
“I grew up in an age when it was meat and potatoes,” said the grandmother of five.
At 74, she still loves potatoes. But, sometimes, she gets tired of making them mashed.
“I don’t care if you put roasted garlic or seasoning salt in mashed potatoes,” she said, “they’re still mashed potatoes.”
So she was thrilled when, about 10 years ago, her oldest sister shared a well-loved casserole that celebrated potatoes of the unmashed variety. Cottage Potatoes feature cubes of the root vegetable mixed with diced onions, green bell peppers and melted medium cheddar cheese.
This is why Bernier likes them:
“They’re very easy to fix, they can be made ahead – the day before – so you don’t have a lot to do the day of the dinner or the holiday, and I think they’re just delicious. They’re too good to be kept secret.”
Plus, “they take the place of mashed potatoes.”
Bernier submitted the recipe to “In the Kitchen with …” in honor of her sister, Viola Mattke, of Plymouth, Ind., who died three years ago at age 88.
“She raised me after our mother passed away when I was 12, so she is like my second mother,” Bernier wrote in the email.
Mattke was an enthusiastic cook and avid baker who did catering from her home – making wedding cakes, cooking for funerals, baking pies for friends and neighbors. She cooked for a local Kiwanis camp as well as for church fundraisers.
“No one could hold a candle to her delicious Swiss Steak dinners,” according to her obituary. “She would make the Swiss Steak for fundraisers, and people would stand in line to enjoy a wonderful meal.”
The 3-by-5 card that bears the recipe for Cottage Potatoes in Bernier’s kitchen is written in her sister’s fine, fluid script.
“She told me about it – I don’t think she made it for me – and I said, ‘Oh, that sounds good!’ So I fixed it for my family,” Bernier said.
These days, she makes Cottage Potatoes four or five times a year, usually for Christmas and Easter and “any time I’m going to have a bunch of people over and we’re going to have meat” – like ham or pork chops – “when we’re not going to have gravy.”
For lunch on a recent afternoon, she served Cottage Potatoes with boiled broccoli and pork chops the way her sister made them: coated in mayonnaise and rolled in a mixture of crushed saltines and dried onion soup mix.
Bernier included the pork chop recipe in a spiral-bound memory book she made for family members five or six years ago. She titled the project “A Collection of Recipes and Memories of the Children of Herbert and Angeline McManus.”
Bernier left the farm in 1957, moving west to Washington two years later. She married her husband, Jim, in 1961, and they raised four children – three girls and a boy – in Port Orchard, close to the naval shipyards, where her husband was a wharf builder and, later, supervised asbestos removal. She worked in purchasing for both the Army and Navy.
They moved to Pend Oreille County in 1999, following retirement. And that’s where they were living when Bernier received the recipe for her beloved Cottage Potatoes.
One of the keys is using plain white bread. Bernier prefers Franz. But slices of baguette probably would do, too. Sourdough, however, would change the flavor of the dish, as would whole wheat, rye or some other variety.
The rest – peppers, onions, salt, pepper, butter, milk, cheese – is easy. “You just dump all of that into the potatoes,” Bernier said.
If it’s so easy, her husband Jim, 77, wonders why she doesn’t make them more often.
“I’m a potato person,” he said. “You can make ’em every day for me.”
From Viola Mattke via Theodora “Teddy” Bernier of Spokane
10 medium potatoes, cubed, boiled until soft, about 10 minutes, and drained
4 slices white bread, cubed
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 green pepper, diced
1/2 pound grated medium cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 stick, plus 2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup milk
In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients, then spoon the mixture into a greased casserole dish that holds approximately 3 quarts. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, then serve.
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
Viola’s Pork Chops
From Viola Mattke via Theodora “Teddy” Bernier of Spokane
2 cups crushed saltines
2 packages dried onion soup mix
8 pork chops, with the fat trimmed off
2 to 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
Mix the crushed crackers with the dried soup mix in a medium bowl or zip-top plastic bag. Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on both sides of each pork chop, then coat them with the saltine-and-soup mix. Bake at 425 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, turning pork chops over after 20 minutes.
Yield: 8 servings
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