Potatoes are right up there with such staples as corn, wheat and rice - and in some countries dried legumes - as a "staff of life."

During difficult economic times between the Civil War and World War II in the Deep South, crops of sweet potatoes and Irish potatoes - more accurately called white potatoes - were stored for use through the winter and literally kept the wolf from the door for many families.

White potatoes come in many varieties, from the big baking Idaho to the small red-skins that grow so well here in the hills. A new crop ready for the table at Fawn Grove was cause for celebration in spring when I was a child, though we dug the small tubers sparingly at first.

Aunt Ola often added dumplings to a pot of boiled new potatoes cooked with salt, and lots of pepper and butter. This created a soup that tasted even better than the potatoes themselves. It probably was not a low-calorie feast, but farm families got a lot of exercise in those days, and didn't have to worry too much about calories or high fat content. We occasionally had country fried potatoes - potato salad for special occasions - and mashed or creamed potatoes were standard Sunday fare to accompany the fried chicken.

A baked or boiled potato provides excellent nutrition, and sans butter and sour cream, is relatively low in calories. Low-fat cream cheese or sour cream can be substituted in some of the following recipes gleaned from a variety of sources.

The Icebox Irish Potatoes recipe makes a big dish that will serve 10 to 12 people - and can be made ahead.

ICEBOX IRISH POTATOES

5 pounds potatoes, peeled

1 8-ounce carton sour cream

1/2 to 2/3 cup butter or margarine

1 8-ounce package cream cheese

1 tablespoon onion salt

Boil potatoes, drain and mash. While hot add the sour cream, butter, cream cheese and onion salt. Mix well. Place in buttered 9x13-inch casserole. Bake at 325 detrees until hot through. (This casserole is even better when made ahead and refrigerated for 24 to 48 hours, hence the "icebox" name.) If desired, sprinkle with shredded cheese during the last few minutes of baking.

POTATO AND ONION CASSEROLE

6 medium-size potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

2 medium-size onions, thinly sliced

1/2 to 1 stick butter or margarine

Salt and lemon pepper

Layer potatoes and onions in buttered baking dish, seasoning to taste with salt and lemon peppr. Drizzle melted butter over top. Cover and bake at 350 degrees until tender. Remove cover for last few minutes of baking, and if desired, top with shredded cheese.

SCALLOPED POTATOES

4 cups thinly sliced potatoes

1 envelope onion soup mix (or onion and mushroom soup mix)

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup milk

Combine soup mix and flour; stir in milk. (Heat milk slightly in microwave before adding flour mixture, and it will blend better.) Add potatoes and mix well. Turn into buttered 1 and 1/2-quart baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour. If desired, top with shredded cheese and/or finely chopped parsley.

LAYERED POTATO SALAD

Boil, cool and slice potatoes and place in layer in flat-bottomed salad bowl. Add layer of shredded red cabbage.

Make next layer of chopped green onions mixed with chopped green pepper. Add layer of sliced or chopped boiled eggs.

Seal top with layer of mayonnaise. Cover and chill before serving.

For variations you can add any of the following layers, adding a second layer of potatoes if desired: Cooked crumbled bacon, shredded cheese, peeled and sliced tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, diced celery, cooked ham, chicken or turkey.

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