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Family Recipe: Potato Salad

February 8, 2011

Today’s post is in honor of Cheryl Tan and the release today of her memoir, A Tiger in the Kitchen. I’m very happy to call Cheryl a friend and an inspiration. Congratulations Cheryl!

In my family, there are certain traditions we do not break. Not ever. And pretty much all of them revolve around a family recipe.

For instance, at Christmas, we make frosted butter cookies and vanilla wafer cake. For a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving or Christmas, we make sage cornbread dressing. For Easter dinner and Fourth of July BBQs, we make potato salad. And when it comes to Chocolate Gravy and Biscuits, we can share the recipe with family, but never with strangers.

Ye Olde Family Brews: The cover of my collection of family and personal recipes. My Mom and Dranny gave it to me.

I grew up making these dishes and many more side-by-side with my Mom and her mother, my Dranny. When I was little, the first lessons were in stirring. As I got older, it was measuring out ingredients – whether it was precisely for the cookies or by eye for the potato salad. And when I was older, I knew I had hit the big time when Mom and Dranny let me take the lead in making the dressing for Thanksgiving dinner.

I cherish these memories and love the recipes.

When I learned Cheryl Tan, a journalist and blogger, was writing a book exploring her family’s history through cooking and recipes that are handed down from one generation to the next, I completely understood why this would matter to her. My collection of family recipes means so much to me and if you took them away, I’d be devastated.

Cheryl’s book, A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family, is out in stores today. In her honor and at Cheryl’s request, I want to share with you my family’s recipe for potato salad.

This isn’t a fancy recipe, but it is one that epitomizes how I learned to cook from my Mom and Dranny.

I can remember cooking with them both and consulting my Mom to get her approval on the right taste and my Dranny to get the right scent. Between them, I’ve learned how foods should both taste and smell as they are prepared. And when I’m cooking at home with them now, I still rely on their opinions to make sure I got a recipe just right.

Our potato salad recipe also has been handed mother to daughter as far back as my great-great-grandma McLain. Although, I know each generation has put its own spin on it. While we may use Miracle Whip today, Grandma McLain would’ve made her own mayonnaise. My Mom also told me that Grandma McLain and Great Grandma Hurst would sometimes use chow-chow instead of pickles.

Potato salad served with fried chicken and cornbread

Today, I’m sharing with you the current generation’s version of our family recipe. But you can bet your favorite family recipe that I’ll be using the chow-chow my Mom made for me and making my own mayonnaise the next time I make potato salad – if only to see how the recipe has evolved and do my part to bring together five generations of women cooking in my own way.

One last note… This has always been a very popular side dish for my family’s Easter Ham Dinner, going back to Grandma McLain. It was a great way to use up some of the Easter eggs and made the potato salad very colorful. To this day, I still think potato salad is best when it has brightly colored pieces of Easter eggs in it, because you know some of the Easter egg dye always seeped through one crack or another.

Steff’s Great Great Grandma McLain’s Potato Salad: Through the Generations
6 to 8 medium potatoes, peeled, diced and boiled until fork tender, but with still a bit of bite
4 to 6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
About 1/2 a cup of kosher dill pickles, chopped
About 2 tablespoons yellow mustard
About 2 tablespoons of pickle juice or white vinegar (pickle juice is best)
About 3/4 cup to 1 cup Miracle Whip (the tanginess of Miracle Whip is important in this recipe)
Salt & pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Add more pickle juice, mustard or Miracle Whip to get the potato salad to a consistency and tanginess of your liking. This is supposed to be a slightly tart and creamy salad. That’s what makes it so good.

Chill the potato salad until ready to serve. It’ll keep in the fridge for about two or three days. And, quite frankly, it’s even better on the second day when all of the flavors have had time to marry.

The hardest part of this recipe is getting the potatoes the right consistency. They need to be fork tender, but not too soft or they’ll fall apart when you stir all of the ingredients together. I like the potatoes best when they still have a bit of bite in the center, but not too much.

When I made the recipe for this blog post, I used a mix of Yukon Gold and purple potatoes. I also used a purple onion. The purple onion and potatoes gave the salad the needed color that was missing from the lack of Easter eggs in February.


9 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2011 11:15 am

    Aw, thanks for celebrating along with me, Steff! YOU have been an inspiration! I love your tales from the kitchen. And I actually have been looking for a good potato salad recipe — this one sounds and looks delicious. The best recipes are always the simplest. Can’t wait to try it and hope you enjoy the book! xx

    • February 8, 2011 9:54 pm

      You’ll have to let me know how your version comes out! And I can’t wait to get my copy of your book. The UPS guy needs to hurry up!

  2. February 8, 2011 1:30 pm

    I grew up with those plates! Love this piece. thanks for sharing. Best VA

    • February 8, 2011 9:59 pm

      I love these plates; they’re from my Dranny’s set that she’s had for as long as I can remember.

      And thank you so much. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post.

  3. February 9, 2011 2:10 am

    Steff, I so LOVE your recipe book – those things mean so much to me and I can just feel the love even in the picture. I think the purple potatoes are brilliant and we used to use chow chow too. I’m bookmarking this one and thanks for sharing it!

    • February 9, 2011 8:26 am

      Thanks Cathy! I love my cookbook too, especially because my Mom and Dranny made it for me. It makes that much more special.

  4. February 9, 2011 2:46 am

    “Ye Olde Family Brews” is awesome. But that Corelle dinnerware, it looks familiar. In fact, I think I used to eat off that VERY plate. Hmmm.

    • February 9, 2011 8:28 am

      Darn it! You found me out. I took your plate. =) Actually, it’s a plate I “borrowed” from my Dranny’s set that she’s had for as long as I can remember. I also have some of my Mom’s blue Corelle on permanent loan.

  5. Mary Lou Johnson permalink
    February 9, 2011 9:10 am

    Steff, Proud of you and your “cooking adventures.” I have to admit some of the words you use are kind of big words for this “country Grandma”, but I am enjpoying your blogs and the pictures are awesome. Love You, Grandma.

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