I grew up eating really good potato salads (to my taste, your taste may not agree). Heck, I grew up eating good potatoes. I am hard pressed to remember a main meal in our house that did not include a side of potatoes whether mashed, raw-fried, boiled then tossed with butter and parsley, bleenies, potato filling, or one of the rare dishes my Dad cooked — au gratin potatoes.
My Mom often made potato salad; it was part of every picnic throughout the summer. She also contributed many a bowl across the years to wedding showers, baby showers, and pot-lucks. Depending on her mood and the ingredients in the pantry, her preferred dressing for her potato salad was either based on hot bacon dressing or mayo/sugar/vinegar.
My Dad and Pappy adored potato salad. Next to mashed, I think it was their favorite way to enjoy spuds. Turns out, my late husband, James, had the same affection for it. But as much as James loved potato salad, he was really particular about whose potato salad it was. He would not eat just any potato salad which lead to frustration throughout the years during his extensive travel.
Trying to avoid the un-healthy fast food trap while on the road, he would often seek out a deli or supermarket with a salad bar. Along with lettuce and vegetables on his plate, he enjoyed a spoonful of potato salad. Sadly, he rarely found one in those situations that did not end up in the garbage. James would not eat potato salad with huge chunks of potatoes or dry salad with little to no dressing. And like me, he detested potato salad that contained chunks of under-cooked potatoes.
I always prided myself on cooking from scratch, but during those early years of marriage, my days were taken up with spending five or six days a week alone caring for a house, several vehicles, 11 tiny Pomeranians, four miniature horses, three Nigerian dwarf goats — and myself. After toting 50 pound bales of hay, shoveling manure twice a day, and just dealing with the daily curve balls life hurls at you, I took some shortcuts. One of those was buying “James approved” potato salad at a local deli.
One day I walked into the store and stopped short — the in-store made salads were gone! The store had changed hands and changed the entire deli set up. I broke the news to James when he returned home but assured him I would make my own for the approaching Memorial Day weekend. I chopped and boiled and tossed and presented James with a chilled bowl of potato salad for our picnic. He took a taste, then another. By the time our cookout was over, James had consumed half the bowl. The next day, I found the empty bowl in the sink.
Ever since that weekend, I made this potato salad for every cookout and holiday picnic throughout the summer, just like Mom did. During the rest of the year, James would not-so-subtly hint he was hungry for it and I would whip up a batch. I never minded; it pleased me immensely that he was such an unabashed fan of my cooking.
My Pop and James never got to meet. That makes me sad because they had a lot of things in common, just one of them being their affection for this, my Mom’s decades old recipe for potato salad. I miss them all so much; I clutch the memories tightly to my heart that these beloved foods invoke. I am grateful every day to have had such wonderful people in my life, but would give anything to have them back in my arms. The belief we will see each other again brings a ray of hope. When we do it will be a great celebration. I’ll bring the potato salad.
The great debate
There is great debate among cooks as to whether potatoes for potato salad should be boiled whole, peeled then sliced or whether is is acceptable to peel, cube, and cook them. I don’t care, I do it my way just like Mom did for this salad. The potatoes in this salad get sprinkled with some white distilled vinegar while hot. To get the flavor desired, I always peel, cube, and cook.
This potato salad is also “creamy”; something that is best achieved when working with the hot cubes of potatoes that were peeled then cooked. The ability to achieve creaminess also comes from using generic white all-purpose potatoes, not Yukon Gold or red-skinned which remain firmer after cooking. Don’t use Russets either (baking potatoes), the salad will likely turn into a “mashed potato” salad because of their texture when boiled.
Once the potato cubes are tender, drain them and place them in a large bowl so much of their surface area is exposed; this allows the vinegar that gets sprinkled on them to get absorbed. Mixing the dressing into the warm potatoes actually mashes some, resulting in a creamy salad. I sometimes intentionally mash more to get it just the way we liked it. Mix most of the dressing unto the potatoes; you may or may not need all of it. I usually reserve some then stir it in before refrigerating the salad. It may initially seem “loose”, but will tighten up in the refrigerator.
Mustard Potato SaladCourse: Side DishesCuisine: General, Coal Region, PA DutchDifficulty: Easy
3 pounds white all purpose potatoes, peeled and cubed into 3/4 inch pieces (about 2 1/2 pounds after peeling)
1/4 cup (4 Tablespoons) distilled white vinegar for sprinkling on warm potatoes after draining
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons yellow mustard
4 dashes Tabasco sauce
3/4 cup loosely packed finely diced sweet onion
2 to 3 Tablespoons sweet pickle relish, well drained
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
OPTIONAL: 3 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and roughly chopped
Ground black pepper and salt to taste
Chives or ground paprika for garnish, if desired
- Peel, cube, and cook the potatoes in salted water until tender. Drain very well. Place cooked potatoes in a large bowl that allows them to spread out; sprinkle the hot potatoes evenly with the distilled vinegar. Allow to set while you prepare the dressing.
- In a medium bowl mix mayonnaise, sour cream, granulated sugar, yellow mustard, and Tabasco. Whisk until blended and smooth. Add the chopped onion, drained relish, celery salt, onion powder, and celery seed and stir well, fold into warm potatoes stirring and mashing some potato cubes as desired (add chopped eggs now if using). Adjust salt and pepper as desired.