By Abram Shantz, as told to Jasmine Mangalaseril
Abram Shantz was born in 1933 to an Old Order Mennonite family in Wallenstein, Ont. At 16, Abram left his family and moved to Kitchener, where he got married, raised a family and started a construction company. This retired widower and great-grandfather now lives in Breslau and happily shares the food of his childhood with his friends and family.
I was born during the Depression. My father had many kids: He had 10 with my mother, then after she died, he married again and had three more. We didn’t have a farm, but we had three acres with two little barns and one or two cows for milk, cream and butter, some pigs and a pen with chickens for eggs and meat. And we always had a big garden.
We kids weren’t in the kitchen a lot while the cooking was going on—we were outside playing or outside working—but I most vividly remember the smell of cooking when we came in. Everything had its own aroma. Of course, potatoes don’t give off as much of an aroma as a chicken in the kettle!
In our house, bledley grumbara (“saucer potatoes” in Pennsylvania Dutch), or cream potatoes, was a common Mennonite dish my mother served at the evening meal.
We weren’t tempted to sneak a taste while it was cooking, but the moment that cream was added, and especially when my mother grabbed a big slab of butter, that’s when you really wanted to taste it.
I got my wife to make cream potatoes a few times, but she said that cream costs too much, and they just didn’t turn out when she used skim milk! After she passed away, I did my own cooking and started trying this, trying that. I didn’t have the recipe, but I knew what was supposed to happen, so I had to make it happen.
I use russets, but I think white potatoes would have good flavour, too. Peel the potatoes, then slice them like saucers, as thin as you can comfortably slice them, as you would for scalloped potatoes. The texture isn’t right if you chop them so that some are thick and others are thin. Boil the potatoes in water with a pinch of salt until they fall apart. Drain the water, then pour in enough cream to coat the potatoes and the inside of the pot. Bring to a boil to create the sauce—the potatoes will absorb a lot of the cream, which will stop them from becoming dry. Add a spoonful of butter and more salt, if you want, for flavour.
When I eat cream potatoes, I think back to when I was little, sitting at a big table along with lots of hungry kids. My father is at the end, and then my mother, and then we kids are all around. The potatoes are in a great big bowl served with summer sausage and pickled beets. Always in the middle of the table is a plate with a tall stack of fresh bread. Everyone grabs what they want.
Cream potatoes are so simple to make. It just happens I like them, and I’ve liked them for 80 years.
Do you have a delicious dish to share with the rest of Canada? Submit your recipe for a chance to be featured on Great Canadian Cookbook and Food Network Canada!