April 24, 2010

In Search of the Elusive Potato Salad

Out with the old. G figures that he’s been given a few days of grace and had better get the downstairs half bath done. 2010.

National Poetry Month: Poem of the Month at “Famous Poets and Poems is Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Himself: Physically feeling better. Gutted the half bath, discovered the toilet hadn’t seated, and that the mirror might be reusable. He’s my hero.

Half Bath: The doors on the left side of the cabinet wouldn't open as they were blocked by the toilet. He got the toilet and sink out and is ready to gut the room and move the sink pipes.

Herself: Worked at the Cancer Society then estate sale’d G two gadget bags and a tripod to fit his Canon.

Reading: Cookbooks.

Gratitude: All G’s hard work today.

I made a pretty good potato salad tonight by simply throwing a few things together in a bowl and sticking them together with mayo. Mother’s potato salad was even simpler with just potatoes, hunks of celery, and big bits of onions mixed with mayonnaise. I didn’t like those giant chunks of Spanish Onion when I was a kid….not at all.

After thoroughly enjoying my undercooked potatoes for a second day, I began wondering where potato salads came from.

Spanish explorers took the potato to Europe, but it didn’t really catch on here with the settlers until the late 1700’s. By the second half of the 19th century, Food Timeline tells us, “Cold potato salads evolved from British and French recipes. Warm potato salads followed the German preference for hot vinegar and bacon dressings served over vegetables.”

The earliest cold potato salad recipe I find in an old Fanny Merritt Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook suggests, “2 cups cold cooked potatoes, French dressing, and a few drops of onion juice.” The same recipe is still there waiting for you in the WWII Volume of Farmer’s cookbook. A WWII era Milwaukee Settlement House Cookbook suggests mother’s recipe with the addition of sliced cucumber all held together with mayonnaise.

Now we know where she got it.

All my volumes offer variations. Most modern cooks today make a Bolivia potato salad. Even Irma S. Rombauer in The Joy of Cooking, [Bobbs Merrill:Indianapolis] 1946 (p. 407) offers a Bolivia Salad. In fact, she suggests so many additions, that potatoes would have been hard to find mixed in with all these veggies, spices, and even capers.

In the Preface to the 1918 edition of the Boston Cookbook, Miss Farmer quotes Ruskin as writing, “Cookery means the knowledge of Medea and of Circe and of Helen and of the Queen of Sheba. It means the knowledge of all herbs and fruits and balms and spices, and all that is healing and sweet in the fields and groves and savory in meats.”

That’s all very sweet indeed, but what I’d like is no more of mother’s potato salad.


  1. Potato salad is a lot like making Thanksgiving dressing/stuffing, every family has its own recipe. I can see you weren't crazy about your family potato salad recipe.

    You are fortunate to have G. A built in handy person. Who could ask for more?

  2. Capers...sounds like a good ingredient. Hubby is not big on potato salad, so I rarely make it.

  3. G is doing a glorious job!!!! I love it!!!!!

    And yeah, I hate huge chunks of onion, too. I like onion to add flavor -- not overwhelm!!!!

  4. i like that yellow-white salad action on your stall windows!

  5. My mother's potato salad was nothing to write home about either. She overcooked the potatoes so they were practically "smashed tater" salad as we kids probably called them--with those confounded bits of raw onion in them. I found those distasteful too. Otherwise, she was a good, instinctive cook and what would I give now to taste once more her old fashioned beef roast nestled in potatoes and carrots and onion.


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Peter in front of a wall sculpture. We were invited up to Peter Knego’s home to see the latest installation.   Abstract flat ...