The best baked potatoes in the world were those cooked in piles of burning leaves. This is the nostalgic story of that lost culinary art. When I was a boy in Stamford Connecticut, Fall was my favorite time of year. By October, the sun was still bright, but the crisp wind off Long Island Sound hinted that Winter’s cold was just around the corner.
All the yards in my neighborhood had huge old maple and hickory trees. When the wind blew, brightly colored leaves rained down on us. This was long before the days of recycling and mulching, so my father would simply rake the leaves into a gigantic pile at the curb and light it on fire.
I know this wasn’t good for the air quality index (a term which didn’t exist then) but burning leaves was one of the highlights of the Fall. The children would circle around the fires for warmth, watching in amazement as the leaves quickly caught fire and burned; giving off a wonderful aroma and crackling sounds.
My mother would give each child a large raw potato to throw into the burning leaves. Then we’d search the neighborhood for the largest sticks we could find and periodically pull the potatoes out of the fire to check on their progress.
After what seemed like forever, the pile of leaves was reduced to a fine ash and our potatoes were done. We held them in gloved hands as we brushed off the blackened skin. I can still taste that first delicious bite!
Over the years, I’ve eaten in some of the finest restaurants in the country, and I often order a baked potato with my meal. But I’ve never had one that tasted as good as those I ate as a child, while a cold October wind blew a million leaves through the air.
(Note: This story was written by the Editor of East Coast Stories and first appeared in the book We Made Own Fun.)