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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

The Potato Gun

December 28, 2010

Food has constantly evolved over the history of man, from barbecued mastodon over a roaring campfire to seared grouper cheeks with a pomegranate puree, crispy sweetbreads, and a beetroot foam.

Food has always been sustenance, but it has also been used for other purposes. Through the ages food has been used as a gift, a political tool to control the masses, and as a universal sign of disapproval when angry spectators threw stale produce and rotten tomatoes after a poor performance.

Food can also be used as a comical weapon, from the slapstick pie in the face to the all-out Animal House-style food fight. Last week a man in Illinois threw a squirrel through the drive-through window of a Hardee’s fast-food restaurant.

Cut to 2010, Hattiesburg Mississippi, and my friend John Price gave my nine-year old son a potato gun for Christmas.

Technically, a potato gun should actually be called a potato cannon. It’s a rather primitive weapon made from four-foot section of PVC pipe and a flint-based igniter. Good old fashioned, bouffant-to-the-sky Aqua Net hairspray is used as the explosive propellant. Grab a sack of Idaho bakers and it’s a great time for a boy of any age.

One shoves a potato down the barrel of the potato cannon, sprays Aqua Net in the base of the cylinder, quickly closes the cap on the end, then creates a spark by igniting the flint causing the potato to shoot a few hundred yards in the air at an extremely high rate of speed.

I never had a potato gun as a kid. The first time I ever shot a potato gun was in 1987 right after we opened the Purple Parrot Cafe. We weren’t very busy in the early days. A good customer must have felt sorry for us, so he made a potato gun and gave it to us. On slow nights we would step out of the front door and shoot the potato gun across the main drag to a billboard at least 200 yards away.

My son tries to make it over the steeple of the church across the street and into the woods. He hits his mark most of the time.

Santa brought him a bike, a hand-held Nintendo player, several high-tech video games, a huge poster of Drew Brees, and some air-soft BB guns. He rode the bike, played with a few of the video games, and hung the poster in his room. But the toy that brought the most joy— even over the real BB guns— was the potato cannon. He shot it until he wore out the flint. It was the hit of the Christmas season.

So if you happen to be in my hometown of Hattiesburg, driving down the street, and a potato flies buys your windshield. It’s not a sign of the end of days. The sky is not falling. There is no produce revolt. It’s just Harrison and his favorite Christmas gift.

Ultimately you’re better off in Mississippi dodging sailing spuds than in Illinois where people are hurling squirrels.

Scalloped Potatoes

4 large Idaho potatoes, peeled, sliced into 1 /4-inch thick discs
1 1 /2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Black pepper
2 cups Heavy cream
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 Tbl Parsley, fresh chopped
1 1 /2 cups Sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place sliced potatoes in a medium-sized saucepot and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and let potatoes sit in water five minutes. Drain thoroughly.

Combine cream, Parmesan and parsley. Separately, combine the salt and pepper. Lightly grease a two-quart Pyrex baking dish. Arrange one layer of potatoes. Sprinkle with 1 /3 of the salt and pepper mixture, then ladle 1 /3 of the cream mixture over potatoes. Finally, sprinkle 1 /3 of the grated cheddar. Repeat process two more times, but leave cheddar off the final layer.

Bake 35 minutes. Remove and top with the remaining cheddar. Return to the oven for 10 more minutes. Remove and serve. Yield: eight servings

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