The One True Potato Salad

Author Photo
By Jennifer Nemec | Aug 5, 2008

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.

I 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.

I 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).

Then 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.”

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…”

Grit Magazine

Live The Good Life with GRIT!