As a young bride on a very low income, I was grateful for many items handed down from friends and relatives. Among these was a black enamel omelette pan with a long wooden handle that came from my husband’s grandmother, Oma. With it came the secret of Oma’s sauté potatoes. Not written down or whispered conspiratorially into my ear, but inherent in the pan itself.
I had struggled for months to produce sauté potatoes, the favourite dish of my new husband, who would eat what I produced, even on occasions compliment me on my virtuosity, but then murmur, “But they aren’t like Oma’s Bratkartoffeln!” I had learnt to make pommes sautées in France, one of my few culinary skills, but now I was living in semi-rural Germany.
Oma’s little pan was just big enough for a husband-sized portion of potatoes. I had grown heartily sick of them by the time I acquired it, so it was with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm that I began shaking the rough little cubes around in a small puddle of hot oil. Sauter means jump, the idea being that as you shake the pan, the contents hop around and get evenly fried. Horror: these were not jumping. They stuck to the enamel surface as if they were cooking in glue! We were living on a shoestring budget and there was no way I could afford to dump these charred lumps. What came out of the pan had to be eaten. So, very apologetically, I scraped my burnt offering onto the plate and set it before my spouse. He dug in, tasted, and beamed: “Just like Oma’s!” And so I discovered her secret.
That little pan was never any use for omelettes, but from then on it produced semi-blackened sauté potatoes on a regular basis.
We moved to England, bringing it with us, and then emigrated to Switzerland. By that time I had acquired a half-decent batterie de cuisine, so the little pan had slipped to the back of the cupboard and was never used.
My parents helped to pack up our chattels before they were all shipped off, and as I was now an experienced migrant, I knew there was no point in taking anything that wasn’t necessary. So the little pan – along with a whole lot of other things – was left behind. My mother took a fancy to it, rescued it, and it has come in quite useful to her over the decades.
I found it in her cupboard, an old friend, long forgotten, for whom I have retained a great deal of affection. How old is it? My mother has had it 40 years, I had it for ten, and it was quite old when Oma gave it to me. It could date from the 1930’s, which would make it older than me. Food still sticks to it, but we know that and cook accordingly. And as I was planning a good old cholesterol-filled fry-up it was perfect for crisping bacon and frying tomatoes.