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Potato hash and other things to learn

by NATHAN R. MOSER
| November 18, 2021 1:00 AM

When I was 11 years old, I thought it was fun to make my mom and dad breakfast in bed. Dark and early, I would enter their room and announce what I prepared. I had not yet learned that weekend sleep for parents was a thing. I’m pretty sure that most of the time, whatever I made was raw in the center.

Dad must have decided that a teachable moment was ripe. Perhaps he also aimed against the spoiling of family resources or maybe an outbreak of Salmonella. So it was, on some dim Saturday morning back in a lost decade, I went upstairs to see the kitchen light on. I could smell the Folgers dripping hot and gurgling through the coffee maker. Dad was there, clean shaven, hair slicked, dressed in denim and flannel.

“You’ll have coffee.” he said to me.

I didn’t know if it was a statement or a question. The coffee finished with a final gasp of the machine. Dad poured the pungent, grown-up liquid into a stout ceramic mug and set it in front of me with a nod.

“Careful, it’s hot.”

I winced down a sip.

“You get used to it,” he said with some amusement.

Then he got to the point, “It’s time you learn to make hash, Moser.”

A cast iron skillet sat on the range looking serious. It glistened with hot butter. I stood over it and caught the outline of my reflection, as if in a black mirror.

“Come over here,” said Dad.

He pulled out a tired plastic bag from the fridge.

“You need a little onion; chop it rough, like this.”

He said this while showing me on the cutting board, curling my fingertips underneath the knuckles as I tried to hold the onion like he did. The onion was not at all fresh.

“It will still work great,” Dad said.

The fat was well bubbling in the pan when we threw the onions in. That hiss and smell could raise goosebumps on the neck.

“Stir them in the butter like this… it’s all timing, Moser.”

Then he went to the freezer, pulling out a quarter bag of diced potatoes. He smashed the bag on the counter before emptying it into the pan.

“Use what you got son, use what you got.”

He returned to the freezer to retrieve some sausage that he had sliced before freezing.

“Always think ahead, Moser. That saves us a lot of trouble, see?”

In went the sliced sausage, along with salt and pepper over everything.

“Don’t rush things now, these will take a bit.”

The fat rendering off the sausage helped the butter to keep the potatoes from sticking.

“Keep it moving and let it come up slow, or else they’ll burn and be raw in the center; plus, it would be more work to clean the pan. Patience now will save you work, see?”

As we stood there letting the hash come up slow, Dad explained the duty one owes to a cast iron skillet.

“Take care of it and it will serve your grandchildren.”

He also talked to me about the storied presence of hash in the saga of our family lineage and that of our country. I was just old enough to understand that Dad must have come of age when useful things were praised and near everything was used. That morning, I learned to put a good brown on the hash.

“We’re almost there, Moser. Start the toast because the eggs won’t take a minute.”

I waited over the toaster while Dad pushed the hash into a pile on the far side of the skillet, clearing half of the hot surface for the eggs. Then he moved half of the pan off the heat, the half with potatoes and sausage.

“The cast iron will hold it nice.”

Then he cracked a couple of the eggs we had left in the fridge into the pan, adding more salt and pepper. He stirred them immediately.

“Keep them moving until the shine is near gone, then we’ll fold them in.”

That was the first Saturday of a great many, where Dad and I ate hash over buttered toast with black coffee.

Last weekend, I noticed my own children getting ready for breakfast. They were pulling two or three brightly colored boxes from the cupboard.

“Wait!” I told them as I went digging into a cabinet.

I pulled out the cast iron skillet.

“Today we learn to make hash.”

Nathan R. Moser is the lead pastor at the Community Church of Ephrata, where he has the primary role in preaching, providing ministry vision, giving pastoral care and helping leaders grow.