(by Emily Berry)
Charlotte potatoes, or “little potatoes,” as they are known in my house, are always incorporated into the meals my mum makes for us. Every. Single. Time. Even though she knows I don’t like them.
I am a first-year university student in Canterbury, England, forced to move out of my accommodation (with two days notice) due to coronavirus. During that stressful time, it was great to be with my family again, having home-cooked meals, but also hard to go back to codependency after having my own space and seeing more of the world.
The supermarket shelves in North London, where I grew up, can be empty, and Mum talks about how crazy it seems that something like food shopping could be considered dangerous. The chaos and confusion are like something out of a natural disaster film. But despite the adventure of going to the supermarket, the little potatoes always manage to find a way into her bag, no problem. They fill up the shopping bags and then the basket under the sink where the vegetables are stored. They fill up each plate again and again. Since she knows I don’t like them, she’ll only give me two or three, but that’s two or three too many. Then she’ll give me this look, the same as when I was little—a look that says: I know you don’t like them, but they’re good for you. So eat them. And I do, with effort, and a lot of salt.
My mum is the person who keeps everything going in our house. Often the first thing I see in the morning is the sight of her hanging out the washing or ironing. Since I moved out, I’ve had to do those things on my own, and they’re difficult to master. (I had no real idea how to work the machines. I just saw buttons and got scared. That let to some scratchy and sloshy washes.) But Mum does them with an ease and a skill that only mothers seem to have. She has tried to teach me, but I’m just not very good. Maybe that’s why I do theatre.
Moving home during lockdown has allowed me to see my mum from a different perspective. She does everything that I do for myself but for four people. Every day and in a much shorter time. Alongside having a full time job. My mum is a physiotherapist for the National Health Service, on the front lines, going into care homes for the first time to treat her patients. This extra work has made her more tired, but she is still that bright light that keeps going. I am worried about her working near corona patients, but she is brave and cautious. And I admire how she can put people at ease. She truly is incredible like that.
At the same time, she is still my mum, coming home to cook dinner, without complaint, serving her little potatoes. I cherish her love and kindness; I aspire to her drive and her ability to keep a balance between family and work. And her cooking is the best thing after a long day (but particularly when she finds time to make my favorite, shepherd’s pie). So I think, for her, I can stomach some little potatoes now and again, even though I will get that look. It’s worth it.
2 Oxo beef bouillon cubes
1/2 pint boiling water
4 t. Bisto gravy granules
1 lb. chopped beef
1 onion, diced
14 oz. can baked beans
5 large potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters.
1 T. milk
salt and pepper, to taste
grated cheddar cheese
Dissolve bouillon cubes in boiling water, and stir in gravy granules. Set aside.
In a large frying pan, sauté beef and onion until browned.
Add gravy mixture and baked beans.
Simmer for 10 minutes.
In a pot of boiling water, cook potatoes until soft.
Drain and mash potatoes with milk and salt and pepper, to taste.
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Place meat mixture in a large ovenproof casserole.
Cover with mashed potatoes.
Add grated cheese, as much as you like.
Bake 1 hour, until top is golden brown.