Thursday afternoons were special in the upstate New York village where I spent my childhood vacations. That was the time when the best cook in town sold homemade bread to her neighbors, loaves warm from the oven, crusty and brown outside, moist and light within.
Just about everybody who tasted Mattie Mattice's bread speculated about ''the secret ingredient'' that made it better than anyone else's.
Years later it was learned that she added mashed potatoes to her bread dough, using a recipe brought from the British Isles by her ancestors.
Old-fashioned potato breads have not disappeared. They are still appreciated for moistness, flavor, and texture but, for many home bread bakers, the extra step of cooking and mashing fresh potatoes is a nuisance.
In the recipe for potato onion rolls that follows, that familiar convenience food, mashed potato flakes, is substituted for fresh mashed potatoes. Potato Onion Rolls 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 cups bread flour 1 cup mashed potato flakes 3 tablespoons sugar 2 teaspoons salt 2 packages active dry yeast 2 cups milk 1/2 cup margarine or butter 1/2 cup sliced green onions 2 eggs
Grease one 13-by-9-inch pan or two 9-inch round cake pans. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup and level off.
In large bowl combine 1 1/2 cups flour, potato flakes, sugar, salt, and yeast and blend well. In medium saucepan, heat milk, margarine or butter, and onions until very warm (120 to 130 degrees F.).
Add warm liquid and eggs to flour mixture. Blend at low speed until moistened. Beat 3 minutes at medium speed. By hand, stir in enough flour to make a soft dough.
On floured surface, knead in remaining flour until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
Place in a greased bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap and cloth towel. Let rise in warm place (80 to 85 degrees F.) until light and doubled in size, 45 to 60 minutes.
Punch down dough. Rest it on counter, covered with inverted bowl, for 15 minutes. Divide dough in 24 pieces and shape into balls. If desired, dip tops of balls in additional potato flakes.
Place in prepared pans. Cover and let rise in warm place until light and doubled in size, about 30 to 45 minutes. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake 25 to 35 minutes until golden brown. Remove from pans immediately. Makes 24 rolls. Devil's Food Potato Cake 1/2 cup milk 3 squares chocolate 1 cup hot, fresh mashed potatoes 1 cup shortening 1 3/4 cups sugar 4 egg yolks 2 cups sifted cake flour 3 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla 1/4 cup sugar 4 egg whites, stiffly beaten
Heat milk and chocolate together. Stir until melted, add to potatoes, and blend well. Cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Add to chocolate mixture. Pour in egg yolks and beat well.
Mix and sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir into chocolate mixture slowly and then add vanilla. Make a meringue by gradually beating 1/4 cup sugar into egg whites.
Fold meringue into cake batter and pour into three 8-inch greased and floured layer cake pans. Bake in a preheated 350-degree F. oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until done.
When slightly cool, invert on rack and let cool. After cake is completely cooled, frost with creamy vanilla frosting. Makes three 8-inch layers.