Saturday, September 4, 2010

Good Eatin'

Got a recipe for you today for a wonderful (and, to me, very special) potato salad that's as easy to make as it is delicious to eat. A bit of background first will give it a proper context.

I grew up eating food, not preparing it. As a cook, I'm very much a child of the Food Network era; Anne, Tyler, Rachel, Bobby and Mario, among others, remain my long-distance teachers. Still, my favorite cook of all was showing her fans the wonderful way good food could make someone feel before there was any such thing as food television, or even color television. Her following was small - 10 at its peak - but very devoted. Her name was Bessie, she was known as Mrs. M, and she was my grandmother. 

Grandma was not a fancy cook. She was meat-and-potatoes, but how good she made those meat-and-potatoes taste. How my grandfather, a limber, wiry man, stayed as thin as he did his whole life, remains a mystery to this day.

Most of her recipes are lost, probably forever, but three are known to still exist, including the one I consider the Holy Grail of the bunch: Grandma's Potato Salad.
This week being the anniversary of her passing in 1984, I can think of no more fitting tribute than giving this most special dish of hers to friends and fellow food lovers all over the world so they can enjoy it too.

Why is this potato salad so good? Having eaten it all my life I still can't put the answer into words. You'll see there are no unusual ingredients or techniques involved. But so good it is when it comes together, a particularly cherished side dish to so many special family dinners, when my uncle would call things like this "good eatin'." When we were really fortunate, we'd take a batch home, and us kids would get to have a bowl for lunch the next day. Not with lunch...for lunch.

The ingredients are simple, so you may be tempted to try to dress it up with other things, such as chopped eggs. I hope you will avoid doing so. If you do and one night have a dream in which you're being chased by a diminutive gray-haired but surprisingly energetic old woman, wielding a rolling pin and saying, "Get over here, ya bestid!" don't say you weren't warned. My advice is to save the eggs for someone else’s potato salad recipe.

So now here it is, for your "good eatin' " pleasure
To make about 1-1/2 quarts of this wonderful stuff, put 2 pounds of potatoes (about 6 medium) in a pot with the skins still on and cover with about an inch of water. Heat the water till it's boiling and cook the potatoes till they're done but still firm. (Regardless of whether your potatoes are medium, or small, or large, try to get all of them the same size so that it's easier to cook them all evenly.) For medium potatoes, I've found this takes about 12 minutes from when the boiling begins, but potatoes, like the people who enjoy them, are all different, so keep an eye on them. When the potatoes are done, drain them well, and let them rest in the pot for a few minutes until the soft crackling sound stops. After that, set them aside to cool.

While the potatoes are cooling, combine in a large bowl 2/3 cup sliced celery; 1/8 cup grated or finely chopped onion; 1-1/2 carrots, grated on the large holes; 1 tablespoon of spicy mustard (Gulden's or similar); 1/3 cup mayonnaise; 1/3 tsp salt; 1/3 tsp pepper, and ¼ cup salad oil.

Once the potatoes have cooled, peel them and cut them into chunks. Add them to the large bowl and mix well until everything is combined and coated. Refrigerate until you're ready to serve it, then sprinkle a bit of paprika and chopped parsley on top.

For a cookbook style, notebook-ready copy of this or any other recipe from this site, just drop me a line and I’ll get it right off to you.

Thanks for visiting! Till next week, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)


  1. I love learning from family because you get the greatest recipes from them. My mom makes some things that are amazing, mac and cheese to name one that I have learned how to make and do so when I need some comfort food...P.S my Capcha word is grater... Go figure.

  2. You said it, Tawnya. Family recipes are such a great example of practical recipes with real heart. When time permits I hope to do some work with something I was given that's a real treasure: my wife's grandmother's old handwritten cooking notebook. (She was from a small town in central Texas, so there should be plenty there for a Jersey City guy to learn.)

  3. It's interesting you say that, Alaina; I was thinking the same thing. I also think part of it may be the way the oil, which is in a some potato salad recipes but not most, allows less mayo to be used. One of things I've always liked about this recipe is that you can taste more than mayo-covered potato.

  4. I love the story behind this. I love your love for cooking and food. :) I can relate to that!! mother's potato salad recipe is THE BEST. hehehe :)

  5. Great story - the potato salad looks delicious too.

  6. Thanks, Pam. And thanks for visiting. I hope we'll see you here again!

    And about posting that recipe in a comment? I'd love to see it. :-)

  7. I would prefer this with sweet potatoes...but then, I'm odd.~Mary

  8. Odd? Never, Mary! Just hearing it your own way, and that's a good thing. Personally, I confess to not being fond of sweet potatoes, but it's an interesting idea nonetheless, and if you try it I'd love to know how it turns out!

  9. I did do it with sweet potatoes. I didn't put mayo or plain salad oil, but I did use 1/3 cup of virgin olive oil. It came out very good.

  10. I hope readers get to see this; it sounds like a great idea. Thanks for sharing it! (And, just between us, I don't think my grandmother would mind a bit.)

  11. Hi, Ben--

    'Happy to meet you. I just found your blog from over at Amy's "Meh" blog tonight. :) I have yet to meet a potato salad I haven't loved, so I'll have to try your grandmother's recipe soon. I've never had one, to my knowledge anyway, with salad oil in it, so I'm eager to try it and taste the difference.

    Best Wishes, :)


    1. Thank you so much, Val. It's great to meet you. :-) I've posted a lot of recipes, but this one holds a very special place in my heart, and I love sharing it.

      A new recipe gets posted every week on Saturday morning, so I hope you'll visit often! (If you're on Facebook, a good way to keep track of what goes on here is on my page there.) If you like potatoes, there are several recipes you may especially like: potato farls come to mind, and a kugel recipe being posted tomorrow!

      Hope to see you again!

      Ben :-)