Christmas tree potatoes...last year's post.


Basic Member
Jan 30, 2002
When I was a kid on "da sout side a chicawgo," (circa 1950 ish)

There WAS a guy who walked the alleys, with a clanging bell, and a two-wheeled cart supporting a grinding wheel. Maybe more than one guy. Sissors, knives, any edged tools got sharpened. The alleys weren't paved back then as far as I can recall.

There were also "junk" men, who had horse-drawn wagons (Honest) who would be scavengers of tossed stuff, or be asked to wait as the still-too-good-to-be-garbage stuff was brought out and loaded up in their wagons.

And "Johnny, the Milk Man," whose ? Wanzer Dairy (don't recall now), truck wheezed the alley-way, with blocks of ice, just ASKING to be attacked by kids for ice chips, when Johnny was carrying glass bottles of milk, cream and half-and-half back and forth to the houses.

The alleys were our playgrounds, battlegrounds, adventure parks, and learning centers back then. There were always men working on their cars, or building furniture, or painting stuff, or repairing something or other on the benches after work, or on the weekends. Depending on the personality of the guy, kids would learn from or run past the open garage...always peeking to see if there was "neat stuff" in the garage.

And since I'm on this track...There was a time..about the end of the first week of January in Chicago...when the "big kids" (7th-8th graders) would start the collection of discarded Christmas trees, dragging them to the sandbox in the City Playground at, er....66th and Talman.... The younger kids would join in, and eventually, as many as 30 or more dried and discarded pine trees would be collected, along with plant sticks, any wood found in passing, cardboard, and whatever wasn't tied down that couldn't be described as "too good to take."

Concurrently, this motley crew would have collected the biggest baking potatoes they could sneak out of the house, chunks of butter, aluminum (tin) foil, and salt and pepper...and of napkins or plates.

This was often the coldest time of year in the City, but like the pioneers before us, as dusk drew nigh, paper would be crumpled, strategically placed, the little kids would be threatened back away from the corner of the sandbox, and a match would be struck and touched to the paper at the base of the construction of piled trees.

As I write this, I can hear the " WHOOOOSSSHHHH" as the brittle and dried pine needles and twigs, then limbs, then the trunks themselves caught fire and sucked all the oxygen from the area to create a flame..that in my mind's eye...must have been 30 feet tall some years.

Why no adults called the cops or fire department, or why no burning embers flew to set garages or houses afire, I do not know.

We NEVER had police problems.

Anyway, eventually, the fire would burn down, the big kids would concentrate the fire and the potatoes would be pierced and wrapped in foil, and then inserted in the burning coals.

Then came the test of character, for the pants, woolen mittens, shoes were all soaked, and starting to re-freeze...there was only so much space in the radiant area of the fire...and the frontier aura of the moments heartened our young hearts, as we endured some parts being singed and others frozen awaiting the "spuds" with the now-melting butter in our pockets, our faces burning from alternating cold and heat extremes, and the dark of Winter night making the brilliance of the coals, or fire, become more intense...and we waited, talking about god-knows-what, maybe emulating the "big kids", dunno....

Until finally, some natural leader of the big kids would poke the embers and claw out a blackened and torn ball of foil, and peel back the metal wrapping...

and then...just then...the skin on the "spud" would break and a billow of the best-smelling steam in the world would rise up into the darkness and cold.

The butter (whatever was left) and the salt and pepper were brought out, and each kid tried to identify HIS potato (es). Some were charred a half-inch thick, others partially uncooked, but nothing has ever tasted better than those hot baked potatoes in the middle of a city playground sandbox in the dark of an early evening, with the taste made vivid with too much butter on fingers, an uneven distribution of salt or pepper, and the charcoal flecks that were inevitable as we ate these wonderful pioneer foods in the shadows of the street lights on a winter's night.

The fire consumed itself, the kids would straggle home to be yelled at for the grime on their clothes, and some of the older kids, and the younger-but-one-day-gonna-be-fire-tender kids, stayed, watched, and eventually smothered the last of the coals.

And then we left.

A winter night remembered for a life-time.

Be well and safe.
Feb 7, 2005
Yeah, the 50's were good Kis.
Suspect the world was learning to behave.
Kids were ignored:D

Had similar experience other side of the world.

Could not happen now!

Cherishing memories like this, is part of growing old :eek: :eek:


Oct 19, 2005
When I was in the Boy Scouts we did a demonstration each year of how flamable Christmas trees are. I think your guess of 30' high flames was very much accurate, and I also remember the whoosh sound as they cought fire. Did a good bit of tin foil cooking too, and still do today. Sweet post.
Oct 15, 2004
Remember one Christmas break in college. Several of us went out drinking and had our fill. Went back to the nearly empty frat house and tossed the now dry tree into the big ol brick fireplace and touched a match. Lordy...wooosh...and we thought we had just about burned down the frat house. Guess angels were watching over us and the frat that night.

The early 60's in my small midwest town were like that when I was a boy. We came and went without much concern from our parents. Got into lots of innocent trouble, but no real harm was done. A kid today can't do what we did then for sure.



Got the Khukuri fevah
May 9, 2002
Kis that story inspired me enough to head over to the baked potato eatery for dinner tonight. Not as good as the ones flame broiled in foil, but it was filling and rib sticking. Geneticly, i'm more "other" than "Irish" as my family does not appear to have been the "picky" type, but my wife argues about that (McCormick was her maiden name...go figure;)). My temper, my taste for Guinness, my silver tongue, and the simple fact that you can't make a potato dish that I won't eat.
I guess the Irish gene is like food coloring. Just a few drops makes a big difference.
Thanks for the story friend. I would have loved to have seen something like that in my life. Sadly, my generation fell right on the cusp before kids got doughy and parents more worrisome and controlling. The very last of a dying breed that WANTED to go outside and play, did not wear bicycle helmets, and were not thrown into the school slammer for making our hands into harmless pistols.

Jul 30, 2004
A story which nourishes the soul, shared, feeds many.

Thanks, Kis.

Aug 26, 2005
That was so politicaly incorrect and so neat . I was trying to think of a use for all the discarded trees I see . Hmm 2 dollar bag of potatos and large lot on corner .