Did I make this story up, or what?
December 13, 2010 1:48 PM   Subscribe

Fairy-tale-filter: What is this story I remember from my childhood? A young girl is given a bag that always contains one potato.

I made a crack last night while chopping way too many apples with an unpleasantly dull knife: "I feel like that girl who could keep taking one potato out of a bag, but in a bad way." I thought this was a common story but my husband had no idea what I was talking about, and I can't find any reference to such a story on the internet.

All I remember is that someone gave a young girl this bag that always contained a potato no matter how many she took out, which was a fantastic gift for her because she was, you know, impoverished and hungry and such, and she may have had a little brother, whom she could now feed because she got this dope bag from some benefactor. It may have been touted to have been Russian in origin, but I might totally be making that up. I know I read it in a book, rather than seeing it on a show or hearing it told. I suspect it came from a collection of short fairy and folk tales, but I don't think it was one of the colored Fairy Books.

It seems like this is a really common fairytale trope in general - a "bag of holding" type thing is definitely all over the place - but this bag specifically just always regenerates a single potato.
posted by little light-giver to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I can't find it online either, but yes, I remember this story.
posted by punchtothehead at 2:04 PM on December 13, 2010

Project Gutenberg's linked edition of the 12-volume "colored" Fairy Book set does not turn it up under a search on "potato".
posted by endless_forms at 2:08 PM on December 13, 2010

Maybe "The Miracle of the Potato Latkes"?
posted by iconomy at 2:18 PM on December 13, 2010

I remember a similar story, but it was a turnip. i can't find it though.
posted by patheral at 2:24 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

A season seven X-Files episode, "Je Souhaite," involved something similar:
JENN: I used to be human. I was born in 15th century France and then, one day, an old Moor came to my village peddling rugs and I unrolled one that an Ifrit had taken residence in.

SCULLY: 'An Ifrit'.

JENN: A very ... powerful class of jinni. He offered me three wishes. For the first I asked for a stout-hearted mule. For the second, a magic sack that was always full of turnips ... Did I mention this was 15th century France?
The trope has been around for some time. A few items in the first edition of AD&D featured bags, pouches, and purses which magically refill. I'm not having much luck finding anything, either. Something tells me that this might be a story from the colder parts of Europe.
posted by adipocere at 2:55 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Porridge rather than potatoes, but perhaps helpful in your search:

Grimm's Fairy Tale: Sweet Porridge

posted by Tapioca at 3:47 PM on December 13, 2010

The one I remember was the never-empty magic pot of soup. In the version I had, the little girl forgot the magic words to make the pot stop making soup, and there was a great illustration of soup running through the streets of the village, and people scooping it up in bowls and cups. I loved that story but especially the picture. Maybe because my Polish grandma made really good soup.
posted by mermayd at 3:49 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Argh - I remember but can't remember this. It's going to drive me bonkers. The turnip particularly rings a bell.

cf The Magic Pudding.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:11 PM on December 13, 2010

In Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain there's a character called Gurgi who has a magic wallet which is always filled with nutritious-but-boring food.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:06 PM on December 13, 2010

I remember a Middle-Eastern myth about a jug of olive oil that never ran dry, also granted to a little girl by a spirit. Mr. Kitarra also remembers a Celtic porridge instance. This trope has legs!
posted by kitarra at 5:07 PM on December 13, 2010

I remember mermayd's story as Strega Nonna. There it's a pasta pot and not a soup pot.
posted by Sara C. at 6:29 PM on December 13, 2010

Response by poster: Yeah, no, I definitely remember Strega Nonna, and also "Why the Sea is Salt", and this wasn't either of those. I've also read The Chronicles of Prydain and remember really being bothered by the idea of a wallet with food in it...I was thinking of, you know, a modern trifold wallet, which clearly couldn't have fit any quantity of food. And it was definitely potatoes, not turnips, because I'm sure I read this when I was quite young, and I had no clear conception of what a turnip was. I clearly pictured a small burlap sack, just big enough to fit one potato, and a russet potato always peeking out.

This is going to drive me so crazy! I felt quite certain that AskMe would have this question sorted in a matter of minutes. Well, here's hoping someone has yet to read the question and read the same book I did.
posted by little light-giver at 8:30 PM on December 13, 2010

I wonder if there's something in the Aarne-Thompson classification system that covers this whole genre of tales?
posted by Sara C. at 8:39 PM on December 13, 2010

Sorry to double post, but digging around a little it seems that the Grimms' "Sweet Porridge", mentioned upthread, falls under Aarne-Thompson type 565, The Magic Mill. Maybe that's of some help, assuming that all these tales we're remembering fall under the same classification where #container is magically replenished with #food?

There's also 564, Two Magic Pitchers. Really anything in the Magic Items range (549-560) stands a chance.
posted by Sara C. at 8:51 PM on December 13, 2010

I remember the Sweet Porridge one mentioned earlier, but nothing about potatoes.
posted by arcticseal at 10:26 PM on December 13, 2010

When was your childhood?
posted by iconomy at 11:56 AM on December 14, 2010

Response by poster: I was born in the mid-80s. I suspect I read this in the early 1990s. However, I read a LOT of old books - from my mom's childhood stash (mid-50s) as well as from our rather decrepit local library. So I wouldn't expect the time to narrow it down at all.
posted by little light-giver at 8:51 PM on December 15, 2010

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