and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
April #3

Family memories and Depression stew
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, April 19, 2007

If you have just given the federal and state governments much of your money and are trying to scrape together more to pay your spring property tax bill, you may need my family recipe for taxpayer mash. This is a simple, filling, inexpensive meal you can serve for a few weeks until you can afford meat again.

Actually, my mother called it "carrots and potatoes" and we ate it during Lent. I just learned last weekend that her older sister, the family matriarch after my grandmother died, called it "Depression soup." But I am calling it "taxpayer mash" to make it timely for this vacation week column.

I decided that this past weekend, with its bad weather, was a good time to tackle my long-standing project of organizing my life. I'd start with my desk, file various statements, sort three months' charitable requests and write some checks; go through three years of Christmas cards to remove photos and letters that need to be answered; file photos and data from my email; clean out some drawers.

But first I had to go to the Salem News Book Fair on Saturday morning in Beverly. What fun! Lots of fellow book-lovers treasure hunting at the tables covered with boxes, younger people kneeling by more boxes on the floor with older people like me looking over their shoulders as they flipped through paperbacks. I shopped for myself, my friend Anne in Pennsylvania with whom I exchange Maeve Binchy and Anne Rivers Siddons summer reading, and my neighbor Chip Ford with whom I share Nelson DeMille, Lee Child and Michael Crichton thrillers.

Then back home, as I sat down at my desk, Chip asked me if I wanted the carrots and potatoes that he didn't use for Easter dinner. I suddenly remembered my and my dad's favorite comfort food, and went looking for the recipe in my mother's cookbooks and index card files. Could see her making a thickener in a frying pan while the vegetables boiled, but how? And do you use milk?

Called my cousin Eileen, from my mother's side of the family; no one home at the log cabin in Colorado. Tried my cousin Pat, from my dad's side, back in western Pennsylvania. She is a wonderful cook who took over family holiday meals from her mother, but she had no recollection of ever eating taxpayer mash. However, we hadn't talked in awhile so we got caught up with family news before I tried Anne, who also hadn't eaten it, but knew there was a kind of thickener called rue, rew, roo? We googled around but couldn't find it.

Then Eileen called back; she found the handwritten recipe in her mother's files, where it was named "Depression soup," and where the thickener was called roux and is based on a New Orleans Cajun staple. She remembered eating it during Lent, but had never made it for her own kids. The recipe was -- like other family recipes -- vague when it came to amounts and timing. Now it was my job to experiment, perfect and share with the remaining family. But first we talked awhile about another project, our grandmother's hand-stitched quilt that Eileen divided into six sections for us and her four daughters; I am having mine framed with photos of that Barbara.

By mid-afternoon Saturday, I was boiling roughly 18 pre-peeled carrots (my mother used the long ones and scraped them herself, then sliced them into circles), and 12 new red and white potatoes (my mother used big potatoes and peeled them, which I never do; but I do cut even the small ones in half, to make sure there is no black inside, like she did). The recipe said to "partially cook" with "a little salt," then "melt butter in frying pan, add flour, stir until it starts to brown. Set strainer in carrots and potatoes, if too thick, add water."

I guessed that I had to drain the vegetables, keep some of the water. Started with half a stick of butter (NOT margarine, Eileen reminded me), kept adding flour, butter, and it took a long time to get brown, but then it happened real fast. Could have just poured it in, but remembered watching mother putting it through her strainer, which I have, so I did that. Added some water. Cooked a little more, mashed a little bit until it looked familiar.

Recipe said "Pepper. Eat with bread and butter." Sometimes it was mashy, sometimes soupy when mother made it; either way dad liked to dunk buttered "Stroehmann's Sunbeam bread" in it. It would not be the same with whole wheat. You want to catch the subtle taste of the roux. You also want to add a little more salt.

It tasted wonderful: my childhood on a plate. But after all that work, time out to start my new Janet Evanovich novel, a "Stephanie Plum" that I'd somehow missed, just $2 hardcover at the Book Fair (the paperbacks were a dime).

Family, friends, food, fiction. My life is not organized, but it sure can be good.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.