We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Our Family's Potato Salad

by Michelle

   In the early 1970s my family and I lived on a small five-acre farm sheltered by a canyon wall with a creek running through dividing the property into two parcels. A two-story barn was the anchor for corrals that contained our horses, goats and sheep. The white ranch house sat serenely between the barn and the pastures where a couple cows grazed on green grass. Chickens in the coop laid fresh eggs under the watchful gaze of the cranky rooster. Our German-Shepherds roamed freely guarding the property. An asparagus bed, a large vegetable garden, rows of boysenberries and fruit trees grew in the fertile land. A towering California Oak tree graced the front yard, complete with a swing hanging from a sturdy branch.   
  A small farm is an ongoing promise of responsibility and unrelenting work that is not easily left in another's care, even for a short while. We did not travel much other than an occasional trip in our Volkswagen bus to visit both sets of grandparents who lived about 4-1/2 hours away in Yucaipa and Redlands. My world view was mostly confined to our small farm for the five years that my parents owned it.
   So, imagine if you will, my paternal grandparents arriving in our small farming community to share tales and photographic slides of their once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe. After dinner, we gathered in our living room cuddling on couches and flopped into chairs. Dad set-up the portable white screen on its tripod legs, plugged in the slide projector and fiddled with the adjustments. Once the slides were correctly oriented and inserted into the carousel, we settled in to look at the wonders of foreign lands.
Back Row: Maria and Juliette
Front Row: Snow, Linda is holding Lora, and  Michelle
   I remember viewing the travel log with rapt attention. Perhaps it was because nearly all the statues were naked or in stages of partial undress. Clothing was not optional in our little slice of the world (unless mom was sunbathing in the backyard.) I distinctly remember the image of Michelangelo’s David and wondering why he wasn’t wearing any underpants, especially if he was preparing for battle. In the end, I guess David did show Goliath a “thing or two”. Upon going to sleep that night, I made a promise to myself that someday, when I was old enough, I would travel to Europe and visit the same sites.
   Flash forward about eleven years and I was on a plane headed to Amsterdam with a newly minted friend for a four month self-guided tour of Europe. We began and ended our adventure by staying with Debby’s grandparents, aunts and uncles in the Netherlands. For the two months sandwiched in the middle, we borrowed backpacks and traveled using “Eurorail” train passes to explore Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. I made my pilgrimage to Florence – or more correctly, Firenze - to pay my respects to David and to take the obligatory photos. I also took the opportunity to send a risqué postcard of David to my Mom. I knew the wow factor would make her laugh.

   As the young are apt to do, in Holland I quickly made friends with a few students whom invited me to stay for a week in Groningen, a University town in the northernmost province. If you want to hear something funny, ask me to pronounce Groningen using my best Dutch accent. When goaded by friends, I was a pretty good sport about trying native “delicacies” such as pickled herring, smoked eel and mayonnaise on friet (French fries).
   In general, I’m not a big mayo fan. I don’t care for it “slathered” on anything. Just thinking about dipping a French fry into mayo can nearly induce a gag reflex. After a few “come on, try it, you’ll like it's,” I did. Honestly it was pretty tasty with this concession: Dutch mayo is different, with its pale buttery hue, than the average offering found in American grocery stores.
   When my new friends discovered that I liked to cook, they asked me to prepare a “typical” American meal for them. Pleased, I readily agreed. I quickly ruled out Hamburgers and French fries – too obvious. I thought Italian would be a letdown because it would not seem “American”. Ditto for Mexican food. Plus, locating chile peppers and the appropriate spices would be like going on a treasure hunt without a map to guide me. I finally decided to make fried chicken, baked beans, potato salad and garlic bread.
   The refrigerator in the apartment was the tiniest I had ever seen. I would call it a Barbie refrigerator if it wasn’t so unattractive. Due to the meager size of the cold box, I decided everything on the menu needed to be made on the day of the party. On the chosen day, my friends duly departed to school or work, and I was left to fend for myself – find my way around town, complete the shopping, lug the goods home and to cook in the minuscule kitchen with the available equipment that is found in a typical bachelor’s pad. It wasn't a problem, it was a challenge!

   If you have been to Europe, you know there is no such thing as one-stop shopping for a meal. The local “supermarket” looked like a miniature Costco with canned and bottled foodstuff available for sale in open cartons - no merchandising whatsoever or fresh produce. I had to look closely at subtle clues on labels to figure out if a pickle was sour or sweet (and so on.) Then I walked to the specialty purveyors, greeting each owner or clerk with a big smile and a garbled, “Goedemorgen” before switching to communication mostly comprised of hand signals and facial expressions to select and buy fresh poultry, bread and vegetables.
   In every country I visited, I was particularly fond of shopping and eating the delicious offerings from the specialty food establishments: bakeries, butchers, cheese shops and produce from open-air markets. Debby and I would make our way around the block to each small store, carefully choosing items for our frequent picnics enjoyed in parks, on trains, or in our small hotel rooms. 
   Back at the Groningen apartment, I cooked (and invariably danced) while I listened to new records from U2, Simple Minds and Bronski Beat. At the end of the day, my friends began to trickle in, peering into the kitchen to see how and what I was doing and to exchange, by way of warm greetings, double-kisses on each other’s cheeks. We poured a lot of beer and wine that night. We laughed and carried on at the table until late in the night. Nary a crumb was leftover. Hungry students are hungy students everywhere, I suppose.
   They peppered me with questions, in very good English, about life in America with a special focus on politics. They wanted to know who would receive my vote for President: Ronald Reagan or Walter Mondale. I remember being amazed at how politically minded they were and being embarrassed that they knew far more about American politics than I did.
   The entire meal was a win for this American girl and cross-cultural relations. Being a potato loving nation, it is natural that my friends especially loved the potato salad. I explained that our family has made this potato salad for generations. My mom learned how to make it from both my grandmothers who had very similar recipes and now my sisters and I make it as well. I told them that the secret is the red wine vinegar and the sweet pickles and to dress the potatoes while still warm – oh… and for a mayo-loving people, they should not be tempted to add too much of the white stuff.

Our Family's Potato Salad

   Russet potatoes are the best choice for this recipe. While Yukon, red, white and fingerlings are preferred in other dishes we make, they do not work as well for this particular salad.
   When stored in the refrigerator, a potatoes' starch changes to sugar, which might sound okay, but it is not. Exposure to light can give the potatoes' skin a green undertone in appearance and a bitter taste. The best option to store the tubers is in a cool, dark place such as a basement, cupboard or pantry.
   For a party, you can successfully make the potato salad 24-hours in advance, but no more (although I eat the salad for 2-3 days afterwards.) I'll even eat it for breakfast. Pull the salad out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes before serving to warm it up a little. The flavor is better when the salad is not so cold.
   Check-out our recipe for fried chicken. Few meals are tastier than fried chicken and potato salad.

6 medium to large russet potatoes, scrubbed and poked with a fork
1 Tbsp kosher salt, preferably Diamond®
about 3-4 Tbsps red wine vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
about 1/3 to 1/2 cup sweet pickle relish, Del Monte® preferred
1 medium red onion, skin removed and diced finely
1 small celery, ends and leafy tops removed; stalks diced finely
5 large eggs, hard boiled, cooled, peeled and diced
about 1/2 cup good quality mayonnaise, homemade or Best Foods® preferred, or to taste
about 2 tsps yellow mustard, French's® preferred

   Preparing mayo is as easy as whirling together the following ingredients with a stick blend. I place all the ingredients in the body of a cocktail shaker. Slowly pull the blender up from the bottom of the shaker until the mixture is emulsified. This only takes about 15 seconds. Easy! The mayo keeps for a couple of weeks stored in the refrigerator. Use leftover mayo to make Chicken Curry Salad or Grandma's Best Macaroni Salad, to name just two of my favorite recipes.

1 cup avocado oil
1 cup olive oil
1-1/2 Tbsps white wine vinegar or Champagne vinegar
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 whole egg
1/2 tsp sea salt

Quickly chilling hot boiled eggs in a ice water bath.
1. Place the potatoes in a large pot. Fill the pot with water to cover potatoes by one inch, cover and bring to a boil. When the water begins to boil, add 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Lower heat to maintain a simmer for 30-40 minutes until potatoes are cooked and are easily pierced with a fork. Remove potatoes to a cooling rack for 10-15 minutes. While the potatoes are cooling, prep the onion, celery and hard boiled eggs.

2. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, working with two potatoes at a time, remove the skins with your fingers or lightly using a paring knife. Cut each potato in half and then each half into thirds, then across into bite size chunks. Add the potato chunks to a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with a little red wine vinegar and with some salt and freshly ground black pepper; toss with a large spoon. Repeat with the remaining potatoes. Add the pickle relish and toss well again. Taste the potatoes for seasoning. Add more salt, vinegar or pickle relish, if needed. The potatoes should be bursting with flavor.

3. To the seasoned potatoes, add the prepared red onion, celery and eggs. Stir until the ingredients are well distributed. Add mayonnaise and mustard, smearing across the top with a spatula, and then stirring well, over and under, until all the potatoes are covered with the dressing. Transfer to a nice bowl. Decorate the top, if you like, with a dusting of paprika and sprinkling of minced parsely. Chill until serving, then let the salad sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Servings: About 10-12

The potato salad was a hit at the final Astronomy Night for the school year.


  1. Again this is so familiar. My mom made it with finely chopped sweet gerkins and I have never seen a recipe like hers til now....

  2. This sounds familiar and just like my mom's recipe, too, which I've used for years. I have never heard of anyone else eating potato salad for breakfast until now, LOL! My husband LOVES potato salad and eats it morning, noon and night after I make it - including breakfast! I'm going to try Russets next time though. I had in my head that red potatoes were best for potato salad. Nice post.

  3. Hi Christy... While I prefer russet potatoes in this traditional recipe, I do like red boiling potatoes in an herb infused potato salad that I also make on a regular basis. Stay tuned, I think we'll be publishing the potato salad next week since it is featured in the gluten-free fried chicken post. If you like fried chicken, try the gluten-free version... it's incredibly delicious, and all thanks to Linda's diligent effort in developing the recipe over the course of two years. We sisters are nothing if not stubborn!


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