Burning Leaves Cooked the Perfect Potato

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!

baked potato

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.)

5 thoughts on “Burning Leaves Cooked the Perfect Potato

  1. We did the same – although it was in Saskatchewan, Canada and the trees were poplars. It was an annual get together for families and friends. I wonder where the idea came from. It does’nt really matter – it was just a thing we used to do – homemade entertainment. “Childhood” memories are really the best.”

  2. My husband said I couldn’t have had that experience bc leaves would not bake a potato, yet I knew that the delicious memory I had could not have been imagined. Thank you for the validation, its great to know other youth of a particular time shared in that same simple pleasure.I too grew up in Connecticut and I too have never tasted a better baked potato than the ones my dad baked for the neighborhood in the gutters around my house. This happened theoughout the 1960s and was a regular Friday night event in October and November.

  3. My husband grew up in Canada yet he scoffed at my memories of potatoes cooked in burning leaves in rural Illinois. Thanks for proving me right. Again!

  4. I love this story and can totally relate! I grew up in Minnesota in the mid 1950’s and this was an annual event in our small town…pile up the maple leaves, wash and wrap the potatoes in “tin foil” and toss them into the burning pile of leaves. An hour later…the sweetest and most delicious baked potatoes emerged! One of my fondest childhood memories. What a fun thing to do this particular year when we are all very family focused due to Covid and social restrictions. Bringing historic traditions back that are simple, fun and engaging is the sweetest thing we can do for our grandchildren and families! ENJOY!

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