The other day I happened to see bags of root beer barrels on sale at the store. I remembered I loved them when I was a child and so I bought a bag for nostalgia’s sake. That got me to thinking about other candies and foods I enjoyed when I was growing up. I thought about some of the dishes my mother made that I particularly liked, such as her stuffing at Thanksgiving, her Waldorf salad, her meat loaf and her pineapple upside-down cake. And, most especially, her potato salad.
Everyone’s mother seems to make the best potato salad ever, but mine really did. I didn’t remember whether she’d found the recipe in a cookbook or among the myriad of newspaper-clipped recipes she collected or if she’d concocted it herself, but it was stellar. I remembered I had just purchased a bag of potatoes and decided to recreate her potato salad for myself. For some reason I’d never tried it before, maybe because for so many years she was around to make it herself.
I called my sister first to make sure I had the ingredients right. “No mustard,” my sister said. “And no pickles. She used vinegar.” I remembered then seeing my mother put her thumb over the opening in the vinegar bottle and shaking drops into the salad, tasting until she got it right. I checked and made sure I had everything I needed.
Some ingredients were a bit different. I had bought russet potatoes before I intended to make potato salad. She always used red potatoes. I had light mayonnaise on hand; light mayonnaise didn’t exist when I was growing up, and I doubt she would have used it anyway. I had organic apple cider vinegar on hand, which probably wouldn’t make a difference in the taste. And organic celery; back in my mother’s day, pesticide-laden regular celery wouldn’t have been an issue.
I’d never boiled russet potatoes so I wasn’t sure how they’d turn out. My sister said she boiled her potatoes whole, with the skins on, then peeled them as soon as possible after cooking, but I cut mine up first, in the interest of shortened cooking time. The cut-up cubes didn’t hold their shape as well, but I didn’t really care, as I would be the only one eating them, and I was going for taste rather than texture. I cooled the potatoes overnight and then added two hard-boiled eggs, chopped. I began adding the mayonnaise, not measuring, since I rarely measure ingredients unless I’m following a specific recipe, and then usually only the first time, adapting it to my own liking thereafter.
I began then with the vinegar, pouring a little and tasting, then began shaking drops into the mix like my mother did. I chopped the celery, using 2 ribs. I minced a bit of sweet onion and tossed that in. I added a bit of salt. I mixed and tasted, tweaked, mixed and tasted. It needed something else. More vinegar? I tried it. Still, I felt it needed something more. Then I committed a bit of sacrilege and added a dab or so of yellow mustard, and then it tasted just right to me.
I set it inside the fridge to give time for the flavors to blend, and when I took it out later to have some, the taste was so reminiscent of my mother’s potato salad that it brought tears to my eyes, remembering her and how hard she worked to make wonderful things for us to enjoy, made more remarkable in that she was the only one of my friends’ mothers who held down a full-time job and raised us for most of my growing-up years as a single parent.
So maybe your mother makes the best potato salad ever; she probably does! Everyone’s own mother makes the best of the foods we enjoyed that she prepared in our childhood. Do you ever recreate the things she cooked for you? Try it, and remember to give thanks for your mother today!