Potatoes were on the table at nearly every meal in my Coal Region household during my childhood. They were inexpensive, plentiful, and versatile. My home was located only a stone’s throw away from one of the largest potato producers in the area. It seemed every week Mom either brought home a large bag of potatoes from the grocery store or we picked some up at a farmers’ market or roadside stand.
My pop was fond of raw fried potatoes with scrapple or a bowl of one of his favorite dishes, potato soup. Holidays brought PA Dutch potato filling to the mix and Sunday dinners always included a heaping bowl of steaming mashed potatoes made rich with evaporated milk and plenty of sweet, creamy butter (with an additional big pat of butter nestled in a divot Mom pressed into the top of the piled up potatoes in the serving dish).
Of course, the much-loved Coal Region classic — bleenies — was never far our minds…or plates! Every year, Memorial Day heralded the start of cookout season and a family favorite, Mustard Potato Salad, made an appearance next to burgers and dogs on toasted buns on our picnic table throughout Labor Day weekend.
Searching back through my memories, it is my Mom that I remember always making the potato salad for our family — with one notable exception. Every time my Mom made pork schnitzel, my grandmother would be in the kitchen next to her making this German Potato Salad.
My Nana always wore a full apron made from printed cotton fabric trimmed with ric rac. I can close my eyes right now and be back seated at the chrome and Formica kitchen table set in the middle of our cramped Coal Region home’s kitchen. As Nana scurried by, she would gather up the bottom of the apron to form a “pouch”, open the cellar way door, pull several potatoes from the old tin storage box where they were kept, and drop them onto her apron.
A few minutes later, the potatoes had been meticulously scrubbed and were bathing in s pot of bubbling water. Accosted by the aroma of frying bacon and pungent freshly chopped onions, it seemed like the wait to sink my teeth into Nana’s potato salad was unbearable.
i shared my Nana’s loved for sweet and sour dishes — it is our German/PA Dutch ancestry that nurtured that affection — so this potato salad has long been one of my absolute favorite ways to enjoy potatoes. All these years later, one of the most comforting meals I can have is this potato salad snuggled up against a golden brown and delicious pork schnitzel accompanied by buttered green beans.
German potato salad differs from the mayonnaise dressed version most Americans think of. The sweet/tart dressing is based on bacon (winner, winner!!!) and a simple cooked vinegar and sugar dressing. Nana never used mustard in her recipe as some cooks do, but insisted one should never skip adding the celery seed. I stick to Nana’s recipe as is simply because it is what I grew up eating.
Be sure to use red skin or Yukon Gold potatoes in this recipe. Russet or baking potatoes are too soft and starchy for this salad. Try to dress the potatoes while as warm as possible since that helps the potatoes absorb the flavor of the dressing. It is traditional to serve this potato salad warm but it is just as delicious at room temperature.
German Potato SaladCourse: Side Dishes, VegetablesCuisine: German, PA DutchDifficulty: Easy
6 medium (about 2 pounds) red or Yukon Gold potatoes (use potatoes that are around the same size)
6 slices of thick-cut bacon
3/4 cup diced sweet or red onion
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
Dash ground black pepper
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup distilled white vinegar
Fresh chopped parsley
- Scrub the potatoes well. Boil potatoes in their jackets until fork-tender. Drain and allow potatoes to sit until just cool enough to handle. Peel, then dice or slice into bite-size pieces. Set aside.
- While potatoes are cooling, fry the bacon in a skillet until crisp. Leave the drippings in the pan. Drain bacon on paper towel, and allow to cool. Crumble bacon when cooled and set aside.
- Saute the onion in the bacon fat in the pan until soft, but not browned, about 5 to 7 minuter. Whisk in flour, sugar, salt, and celery seed and a dash of pepper to your taste. Cook over low heat, stirring, until smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat and whisk in water and vinegar. Return to the heat and bring to a boil stirring constantly. Boil for one minute then carefully stir in the potatoes and crumbled bacon. Remove from heat cover and let stand until ready to serve. Sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley.