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Potato Salad Nostalgia

July 8th, 2009 | 7 Comments »

If you had asked me a week ago if I liked potato salad, I probably would have done some type of combination eye roll with a detestable smirk to show you in no uncertain terms how much I really can’t be bothered with all that cold potato with mayo and god knows what else kind of food that is everywhere this time of year.

moms potato saladA 002

And oh, I would have been so wrong but really, give me a moment to get you up to speed on the saga of Potato Salad In My Life. I’m sure when I’m done you’ll understand the reason behind that particular face I was prone to making.

You see, Potato Salad was everywhere when I was a kid. Everywhere. My mom made it all the time -always the same way– for every picnic or family gathering we had, and in our extended family of grandparents, uncles, aunts and the 10 cousins, we gathered often. There was always potato salad. We always had a big hunk dumped on our plates and were expected to eat it. This was the 70’s. We were supposed to sup without question and usually when Mom was out of earshot, someone inevitably would make gagging noises and shove the mess aside, or maybe if it was a certain bespectacled scrawny little dark blonde girl, she would eat the hard-boiled eggs off her portion, maybe one piece of potato, but never a radish and then muck up the rest in an effort to look like she at least tried.  Who me? Well, yeah, probably.

Potato salad. Just the words conjure up images of gloppy yellowed blobs of indistinguishable potato, maybe a piece of celery or egg, certainly nothing that anyone ever leaps on in ecstasy, eyes sparkling for joy kind of way. Yet if there is one thing that makes for the most impassioned arguments or a hotly tested debate it’s the humble potato salad. People are nothing if not vocal about how it MUST be done; vinegar based or mayo, mustard or not, eggs- some say yuck, to others it’s a must- and celery, of course. Wax spuds or russets? Colored or not? Boiled, baked, roasted, grilled…..just doing an Internet search for ‘potato salad’ not only gets you forty-trillion recipes, but several lengthy and impassioned debates, some with plenty of CAPS!!! to indicate their point.

Gah. It’s a potato. And a salad.

But back to Mom’s, the salad that wouldn’t die. And can my sibs help me out here? Did Mom actually like the potato salad or did she just make it because everyone expected her to bring it? I seem to recall a lot of grumbling when it was being made (oh wait… that might have been me) and not a lot of excitement.

Then comes last week, the day that a not so unusual dish of potato salad landed on the counter at a pool party I attended, whereas I scooped up a small amount and raised the first bite to my mouth, utterly without any expectation, delight or joy at all and it positively bowled me over in how it brought back such a rush of memory that I could almost hear my Mom’s laughter again. Me, who got so sick of potato salad that I just about cringe when I even hear the words; me, who to this day, despite loving cold cooked potato with a simple sprinkle of salt never ever wants them mixed with mayo, I had to quick email my sister and ask her to help me remember how to make Mom’s Potato Salad because suddenly I had to have some or I might have had a little meltdown.

Me and meltdowns…..so not pretty. I do what I can to avoid them at all costs.

And talk about recipe karma…..Kris named the simple ingredients that she remembered- potato, radish, celery, cooked egg, mayo and Durkee’s Famous Sauce. Season with salt and pepper, please. That was it, and it was all available in my kitchen. Before the day was out I was staring at a bowl of perfect cooked potato dressed in a simple mix, with colorful radish and ca-runchy celery. I took a bite.

moms potato salad 008
moms potato salad 002

It was all I could do not to break down in tears right then. The wave of nostalgia that came over me was overwhelming; sweet and lovely but almost paralyzing in it’s sadness. I scorned this dish growing up, and crossed my blue eyes at my Mom so many times that I’m sure she never looked straight at me when she announced her intention to make this dish in order to NOT see me do that AGAIN, her precious #5 of 5, making faces at her. I mocked it, mushed it, stuck my tongue out at it and gagged at the very idea of it. Then I shunned it for decades, somehow convinced my life would be just fine, thank you very much, because I don’t want Potato Salad. I don’t like Potato Salad. Oh how very wrong I was. And how so very sorry I am that I was like that to her.

Now I’m sure that this won’t be my BFF for long. God knows I probably don’t have enough tears in me to continue making this all summer but it was so perfect and easy to pull from the fridge to serve alongside our BLT’S, or BLATZ as I likened to refer to the mile- high creation on my plate….  what’s that you ask? Why, it’s bacon, lettuce, avocado, tomato and grilled zucchini.  Delicious in it’s own right, but amazing next to this potato salad.

moms potato salad collage

Kate’s Mom’s Potato Salad

(weights and amounts are approximate- you will know best how much to use)

2# potato of choice, scrubbed with skin on
1-2 stalks of celery, sliced fine (amount depends on your love of the ca-RONCH factor)
4-6 radishes, scrubbed and sliced thin (again with the ca-RONCH deal)
2-3 hard boiled eggs, sliced
1/2 c. real mayo
1/4 c. Durkee’s Famous Sauce
Salt and Pepper to taste

Boil potatoes until a fork slips in easily. Time will be dependent on size and type. Drain, reserving some of the potato water and sprinkle with sea salt while still hot. Toss slightly and sprinkle on more salt. Allow to cool and dice or slice to your liking. Leave the skins on.

Mix potato, celery and radish in a large bowl. Combine the mayo and Durkees and drizzle about 1/8 c. (or 3 T.)  of the potato water into it, then whisk to emulsify. The starch in the potato water will help the dressing stick better. Pour half over the potato mix and stir gently to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Taste it. Add more dressing if you like it creamier, or more salt and pepper. Add the eggs and fold in gently. Serve at room temp or cover and chill thoroughly.

Why yes, you do spot bacon in the photos above. While the original recipe does not call for bacon, I had some on hand and added a crumbled piece to see how it would be. What can’t be improved with bacon? Wait, don’t answer that!

The bacon was OK, but not perfect. And I am aghast to say it, but it’s true. The salad just doesn’t need it, and it isn’t Mom’s Potato Salad any other way.

7 responses to “Potato Salad Nostalgia”

  1. What a sweet post, Kate. Your Mom surely knows and is so happy you finally discovered you LIKED it after all. I’ve always loved potato salad, but your Mom’s is just enough different (Durkee dressing and radishes) that I may have to try it. It sure looks good and my mouth is watering (good sign).

  2. Renee says:

    You’re making me very very hungry…. Nice to see you blogging again so regular.

  3. Uncle Mike says:

    This brought back wonderful memories. Didn’t we spend most picnics kicking our cousin’s butts in softball?

  4. roger ganyo says:

    wow Kate what a trip down memory lane. I can still remember your mom’s potato salad. So thick and creamy, with none of that vinager taste that you get in so many salads. and the cruchy taste of the radishes and celery all chopped up was out of this world. I have yet to have any potato salad that was even close to your Mom’ Kris remembered the ingredients just as I did.

  5. katessisterkris says:

    Looks yummy – I like the bacon addition. Glad I could help!

  6. Kristen says:

    What a great post, Kate. i bet your mom is doing a little dance in heaven now that you have finally come around to her potato salad loving ways 🙂

  7. Auntie Liz says:

    Thank you for sharing stories of your childhood. The stories touch my heart. And, knowing your mother, she probably had many laughs about the faces you made about her potato salad, knowing full well that one day you would be making it yourself. As you well know, she was a wise woman.
    P.S. You are such a gifted writer. Few people have your skill in telling a story in writing. As I read your words, I can just hear you telling it.