Grit Blogs > Joy in the Journey

The One True Potato Salad

By Jennifer Nemec


Tags: food, potato salad, Mom,

Here at the GRIT offices, we have found that Potato Salad is a very individual thing. Everyone has “their way,” and a chorus of “That’s just not potato salad”s has been heard around here. When I’m grilling burgers on a July afternoon, I usually just go pick up some Amish Potato Salad down at the corner big-box. (What makes potato salad Amish, anyway?) However, when it’s mano a mano with the other staffers, I had to go all out.

In preparation for making The One True Potato Salad™, I first called the Potato Salad Oracle (aka my mom) to get the “recipe” for “Potato Salad a la Mom,” which is a combination of Grandma Holm’s version and Grandma Nemec’s version.

Yukon Gold PotatoesI had already hard boiled the eggs and had the potatoes cubed and cooling in the fridge by the time I talked to the PSO, so her advice to use red potatoes was too late. I used the ones that I had, Yukon Golds that you can buy at your local market.

I started with six potatoes and eight hardboiled eggs. Apparently, the reason that I always think that there aren’t enough eggs in potato salad comes from my early years on the farm. We had to buy the potatoes, but we had chickens and the eggs were free. So, my mom’s potato salad always included many eggs. She suggested about a 1 to 1 ratio. And sweet baby gherkins (not relish). The eggs must be sliced in one of those egg slicer things with the wires (I went to the store and got one just for this). The potatoes cubed, and the pickles halved and sliced.

Chopping CompleteI often joke with people about learning some things by “osmosis,” but sometimes that’s the only way you can explain it. I was too busy editing the school paper, playing the French horn, and training for sports teams to learn to cook as a youngster, so I have entered the culinary world relatively recently. But when I picked up a pickle to slice it, I was back in my grandmother’s kitchen, and I could see her hands making the motions. (Either that or she was cutting up potatoes to make fried potatoes, another of our favorites.)

This completes the salad components, and all you need is “dressing.” Take about a cup of Miracle Whip (don’t worry KC, I used the “light” variety, and it still tasted fine), add a few glugs of cider vinegar, 3 spoons of sugar, some salt, pepper (I was light on the pepper because I’m not a pepper fan), and celery salt (because celery seed might get caught under someone’s partial).

Ready the DressingThen you have to make a choice. If you’re feeling like a Holm that day, no mustard; if you’re feeling like a Nemec, add some mustard – enough to make it the right color, it should be a nice light yellow (Mom’s number one reason for using mustard: because it’s prettier). It’s not quite yellow enough in these photos – something about the lighting (these photos were taken with care with my phone under the kitchen lights).

Now you taste it, and add more of whatever’s missing. :) I actually taste it at intervals, to get the Miracle Whip/vinegar ratio right, and then to get the spices “to taste.”

Add the dressing to the rest and “toss.” “This is very important, Jenny, you don’t want to stir it too much. It’s more like tossing it.”

Finished

It’s best if you can let it cool and mingle in the fridge for awhile before you eat it. Then bring the burgers in from the grill, sit back and enjoy.

At this point I should probably own up to this being my version of my mom’s potato salad because it’s missing an ingredient that I’m not fond of. When I was young and very very good, a bowl of potato salad like this was saved back with my name on it before the last ingredient was added. Though it seems that the battle still rages, because my mom closed our potato salad conversation with, “But it won’t taste right without the onion…”

jennifer nemec
10/2/2008 9:58:51 AM

Hi Steven, I hope you also bought the magazine... :) I'm pretty sure you're capable of recreating the conversation with my mom. She says, "Hello!" Oh, and shallots are tolerable, but still not something I'd choose to include... Thanks for the comment!


steven
9/20/2008 2:29:56 PM

Jenn: This made me smile -- I saw Grit at the grocery store today, saw you had a blog, and rushed home to read it! : >) I'm picturing your mom on the phone, walking you through the recipe. Very sweet. One of these days, I'll make potato salad . . . with eggs, mustard, pickles, and maybe some onions (or how about shallots?). Thanks for blogging!


steven
9/20/2008 2:29:37 PM

Jenn: This made me smile -- I saw Grit at the grocery store today, saw you had a blog, and rushed home to read it! : >) I'm picturing your mom on the phone, walking you through the recipe. Very sweet. One of these days, I'll make potato salad . . . with eggs, mustard, pickles, and maybe some onions (or how about shallots?). Thanks for blogging!


rosemary h.
8/31/2008 10:25:18 PM

No, no...only real mayo will do in potato salad. My daughter uses Miracle Whip in recipes that call for mayo as her husband likes it better but...she loves my mayo laced potato salad....and only real mayo for deviled eggs too...best taste ever!!! Guess I sound like a snoot but I am willing and open to TRY new recipes and then use my taste buds to make the final decision.


jennifer nemec
8/29/2008 9:17:23 AM

Susan: I'm sure anything you make will taste wonderful. Lacy: The homemade soap is getting good use, thanks! Simple recipes are all I can handle at this point, but I think the celery salt makes it great! :) Gena: Thanks for keeping my mom busy. I still call her with questions like those (and I bet you can, too)! :) Thanks for commenting! Jenn


gena
8/27/2008 4:09:31 PM

Hi, Jenn, Just wanted you to know that I work with your mom and she helps me with recipes too. I was raised on a farm and was outside with my dad a lot when my mom was cooking so I am kinda behind in the kitchen too! I tell your mom what I would like to make and how it tasted when my mom made it and she usually comes up with the answer!! As you know your mom is leaving me this week to move to NE. I will miss her very much! She is great!!! She is very proud of you!!! Thanks for sharing your mom with me! Gena


razor family farms
8/19/2008 5:29:41 AM

Hi Jenn! I thought that I would let you know that you won a bar of homemade soap. Your comment on the blog (NEWS @ Razor Family Farms) placed your name in the drawing and you won! Congratulations! Please email me your address and I'll put your bar of unscented old fashioned tallow soap in the mail (well, as soon as I make it to the post office). Blessings! Lacy P.S. Red potatoes, green onion, hard cooked eggs, beef bacon, dijon mustard, mayonnaise, and some salt&pepper is all that any potato salad ever needs. Yum! Of course, being a bit of a salad snob -- my theory is less is more. I try to keep my life, food, and recipes simple. Thus, each ingredient can be enjoyed to its fullest. -LR


susan_1
8/18/2008 7:51:30 PM

Now you've gone and done it, Jenn! With a kitchen full of farmer's market produce to process, what do I crave? Spud salad. The late mom of a friend, who couldn't eat dairy or eggs, made one once that had fresh sweet corn and bacon, and it was crunchy and sweet and divine. Oh, to have that recipe in my collection. As far as the classics go, I'm with you: The egg-ier, the better! And you'll love having an egg slicer. My own mom does a cucumber salad with sliced eggs (and, alas, onions) in a cool, milky dressing.


jennifer nemec
8/12/2008 10:24:03 AM

Hi Judy, The onions/no onions debate is a long one. As I've gotten older, I'm less of a stickler about it, but still wouldn't *choose* to add a bunch of raw ones to anything. :) I love mustard, so I'm happy to add it, but I hadn't thought of food coloring. Maybe we could make some purple potato salad? Thanks for commenting!


judy_1
8/12/2008 9:37:29 AM

Jenn, If you don't like the mustard just use some yellow food coloring! That's what mom always did and of course I do too. Oher than the mustard and the huge amount of eggs our family recipe is the same. And by the way,it must have onions and always use Miracle Whip!


hank will_2
8/7/2008 8:52:37 AM

Hey Jenn -- I really like the concept of tasting until it is right. I don't know about those pickles and that mustard though. However, should you feel motivated to bring such a dish to work one day, I won't be shy about sampling!