Potato Salad and You

I just started reading  Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life.  (I find myself only reading foodie books now—in fact I just got Anthony Bourdain’s new one, Jay Rayner’s The Man Who Ate the World, and my very own copy of Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires delivered to my door.  Thanks, Amazon! )

In one of Wizenberg’s chapters, she extols the perfection of her father’s potato salad.  I think that she also conjectures as to what your favorite potato salad may say about your personality, cooking style, etc.  I started thinking about potato salad in my own family.

It has to be mustard based to be a true potato salad in my family (although recently my sister and I have jumped ship and are making mayo-dill based varieties).  My grandmother’s recipe used mustard (of course), celery seed, hard boiled eggs, pickles, and enough “salad dressing”  to bind it all together.  And, her potatoes were always mashed, never cubed.  I remember that this was such a favorite with my cousin that when he came home from college, grandma would make this salad for him.  (What an odd combination because I also remember her making homemade raised donuts for him as well.)

The first time I made potato salad for my future husband, I used the memory of my grandmother’s salad as a basis to develop my own.  I boiled potatoes, mashed them, added eggs, pickles, mustard, mayo, salt and pepper.  When I presented this dish to my new boyfriend, he sort of just moved it around his plate.  Finally, he had to ask, “Why is this all mashed up?”

“Why not?” I responded.

And then the kicker, “My mom doesn’t make it like this.”

I immediately went on the defensive.  Who was he to insult the family potato salad?   It was not the most romantic dinner from this point on, to say the least.

I later called my mom and unloaded on her about this insult to our family cuisine.  With her voice of reason, mom let me in on a family secret:  The potatoes were mashed because grandma was using up leftover mashed potatoes.  What?  That never dawned on me.  (Having been an adult during the Depression, she never,  and I mean NEVER,  threw anything out.)

Obviously, my grandmother was being frugal, using what was on hand.  I now wonder if she ever made it when she didn’t have leftover mashed potatoes, or did she just plan all her meals accordingly?

So, that leads me to my sister and I who have departed from the family recipe and are now making “fru-fru” potato salad with fresh dill.  What does that say about us?

Grandmother’s Potato Salad

1 c. salad dressing (not mayonnaise)
1 t. yellow mustard
1/2 t. celery seed
1/2 t. salt
1/8 t. pepper
About 3-4 cups mashed potatoes
2 hard cooked eggs, chopped
1/2 c. chopped onion
1/2 c. celery slices
1/2 c. chopped sweet pickle

Combine salad dressing, mustard, celery seed, salt and pepper;  mix well.  Add potatoes, eggs, onion, celery, and pickle;  mix lightly.  Chill.  6 servings.

After my grandmother passed away, we found boxes of recipe cards and even more clippings of recipes from magazines and newspapers.   My aunt compiled everything we found into a family cookbook.  I copied this recipe verbatim from that collection.


4 comments to Potato Salad and You

  • There’s a lot of similarity between your potato salad and mine, I see. So I can tell that yours would be fantastic! ;)I love the story about your grandmother’s potato salad. Your family will treasure that story in your blog.

  • […] I have posted about your pickled green tomatoes, your donuts, your bread, and your potato salad as an homage to you and your kitchen.   I wish I could talk about the changes in public education […]

  • I love this! My husband was thrilled the first time I made potato salad because it was like HIS grandmother’s and no one ever made it like that any more. My daughter, on the other hand married a man of Italian/Korean descent AND he spent his formative years in New Jersey. He reacted much like your husband when she made it the first time. Until he tasted it. Now, that’s all he wants on the holidays and other family gatherings. He was an easy convert! 🙂 next time, I think I will add some celery to mine too!