It took Terry Burton five attempts to master potato boxty.
Burton is not Irish but accepted the challenge of making an appropriate dish to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, which is Wednesday.
The final attempt is what he thought would be a Midwest version of the traditional potato pancake.
While the recipe calls for a mix of raw potatoes and mashed potatoes, he also tried thinly sliced potatoes for the grated potatoes and baked it. He’s keeping that recipe but said it wasn’t a boxty.
Burton also followed a traditional recipe first but found it too bland with not enough salt.
He used butter on the griddle on a batch, but found the butter browned too quickly.
After trial and error, he settled on a combination of strained shredded potatoes and mashed potatoes browned in bacon grease.
“It was a fun experience. I always enjoy trying something new,” Burton said.
He said he loves making different ethnic foods, which he said started with his annual Christmas Eve parties where the men do the cooking.
He said this is his first venture into an Irish dish, not counting shepherd’s pie.
“Growing up, that particular ethnic food wasn’t really in my roots.”
Burton is a Wayne native and a 1988 graduate of Elmwood High School. He and his wife, Julie, both have German descendants, but he is a self-described mutt.
“I know much more about sauerkraut,” he said.
He is interested in a lot of old recipes; he got a cookbook from his grandmother’s great-grandmother that is circa 1887.
“It was fascinating for me to read through those (recipes), because it talks about, for instance how to use every part of the cow and how to use every part of the pig,” Burton said. “The stuff that I’m interested in, is the stuff that you just can’t get ahold of anymore.”
He was inspired to try to find pig stomach to make a German sausage.
He went to Belleville’s Market and was told they had it but didn’t know if they could sell it.
“After much negotiation with the health department, I did not get my pig’s stomach.”
That is the problem with the old recipes, especially the real traditional stuff, Burton said.
He has used the cookbook, which is yellow from age and has a broken binding, for reference but the recipes are sometimes hard to discern as they may not have measurements.
He helped his son, Ben, made beef bourguignon for an extra-credit project for his French class at Bowling Green High School, where he is a freshman.
“It was a whole-day project but what a wonderful end result,” Burton said. “It’s just fun to try something you’ve never tried before.”
Ben said his dad keeps meals interesting because he is always trying something new.
Burton is encouraging Ben, who wants to learn to cook from scratch, and tells his son that he can take a lot from his science class.
Burton said that he was good at chemistry in school and said cooking can be like an experiment.
“If you understand the science behind it … and that stuff is what I really gravitate towards,” he said. “I get my biggest joy in finding something I haven’t done before and trying it and figuring out if it is good.”
Mongolian food is next on his list to attempt.
Burton said he was a picky eater growing up, to the point his mom told him when he was 10 if he didn’t like what she made, he could cook his own meals.
He accepted the challenge.
“Little did she know, within a month I was making my own meals.”
Burton gravitated toward Italian dishes as a kid, but as he has gotten older, he appreciates more spicy food. He makes Mexican food and tries to find traditional dishes when he travels to Colorado to visit his sister.
“I just love that kind of food.”
He learned a lot about cooking from his mom, who was a baker and learned to cook from her mom.
Burton had a high school friend who liked to cook “and he and I spent a lot of time pushing out the envelope to learn to do things that we hadn’t done before.”
It was while in high school, in 1986, that he began his Christmas Eve cooking tradition.
“We always try to pick stuff we haven’t done.”
Burton recalled a meat gelatin salad that didn’t work as it was supposed to.
“That’s the joy of it, doing something you haven’t done and also trying something that you’ve never tried.”
Right now there are seven men in the core group who cook 25 dishes for 80-200 people who visit over the course of the evening.
Christmas 2020 was the first year the party was canceled.
His go-to when baking is cookies, from molasses to sugar — both of which are his great- grandmother’s recipes.
“I do enjoy making those because they have great memories.”
His wife, Julie, said she enjoys the homemade pizza he makes on the grill.
Burton said there are certain things that taste better on the grill.
He said he doesn’t always write down what he puts into a recipe as he makes it.
“I have lost some recipes in my head,” he said. “I do a lot of cooking and baking by feel. I don’t measure as much as I used to. Now I kind of do it by how I know it should be.”
Burton has been the director of the Wood County Board of Elections since 1996. Last year was the most challenging in his 25 years in office.
“Canceling at the last minute (in March for the primary) was probably the most traumatic thing I’ve had. I was about at my wits end that night, trying to find out what’s going on.”
The August election also presented its own challenges as his office had to sort votes in the eight territories that petitioned to leave Bowling Green City Schools.