I always wondered where the magic came from.
It being my mother’s mashed potato recipe, I just assumed it was love.
I have had them in a thousand meat-and-threes, spooned out by ladies in hair nets and orthopedic shoes, and in a thousand perfect bistros, dusted with parsley or parmesan.
None were as good as hers, conjured in her battered pot in the pines of Alabama.
I asked her secret.
“Just butter, milk, salt and pepper,” she lied.
I know she lied because I tried it, homesick, in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, other places. I almost lit Cambridge on fire, trying to create what that old woman had.
But when I was done, it was always, well, pedestrian.
Her potatoes were creamy, perfect, with real butter pooling in small lakes. Lumps were for tourists. Skins were for Philistines. These, cliché or not, melted on your tongue, with just a little extra, a lingering taste of … what? I could duplicate everything but that.
Then, lurking just outside her kitchen one Than...