Potash or my theory of language

Alberta Wilson
3 min readFeb 11, 2021

Food for thought

Full disclosure: I’m a boomer so indulge me please.

I know today’s kids, pandemic notwithstanding, have very organized lives before, during, and after school. They have activities, playdates, projects, sports, tutoring, and whatever can be come up with. Back in the proverbial day, I sometimes attended an “after-school” community center. That’s where I learned very little but could hang out with kids playing ping-pong, basketball or the random board game. I guess I did get pretty proficient at board games.

Someone thought of the bright idea of providing cooking lessons at the center. I was in. The cooking teacher, I feel like I need quotation fingers, instead of real quotes to illustrate my opinion of her — do not recall her name — and her recipes. I actually only remember one dish and that’s because she called it “potash” — she really said “pot ash” and dared us to go home and ask our mothers what it was.

Of course, I asked my mother, who I believed knew everything there was to know about culinary arts. She said something like, “Girl, I never heard of no pot ash. I don’t know what that woman is talking about. Where is she from anyway?” I figured if my mother didn’t know what it was, it wouldn’t taste too good but I was very curious. Where was this woman from anyway?

Even when I returned to the center the following week and was told very ceremoniously what we would be preparing, I never understood what the after school chef was trying to say until I had thoroughly mastered another language many years later.

A failed recipe is at the origin of my theory of using a language you do not speak. We all throw in the occasional “hasta la vista,” “danka” or “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?” But we’ve heard them all a million times and everyone knows what were talking about, right? What was this woman speaking if not some “kitchenese” used to confound adolescent amateurs?

The potash tasted like warm water and looked like diluted shoe leather broth. Our volunteer gastronomic guide announced that it was indeed soup! Such a name for an unpalatable soup! I would relegate this indelicacy to the far recesses of my mind while wondering where on earth potash, the word, came from.