Mama didn’t put eggs in her potato salad, because she knew of my aversion. Nor did she use mustard or, if she did, it was not enough to change the color. Her potato salad was white. She preferred sweet, chopped pickles to relish and always, always, real mayonnaise.
Even after I married and moved to Missouri, she’d make a big bowl of potato salad when she knew my family would be coming to DC for a visit. We’d arrive late in the evening, but before going to bed, she and I would have a dab of her potato salad—a “quality check,” we called it—just to see if it measured up. It always did, even as she got older and sicker.
But, doggone it, I have no recipe for her potato salad—and I suspect she didn’t either—so I was never able to duplicate anything close to my memories.
That is until I came upon this recipe from the food blog A Spicy Perfection entitled “How to Make the Best Potato Salad.” (Don’t worry, I wouldn’t presume to tell you what’s best; potato salad is a very personal dish.)
Reading the ingredients triggered some primal memory. The recipe called for all those items I remembered, plus celery seeds and dill weed. BINGO! I recalled those little black specks, that at the time I thought to be ground pepper. And those flecks of green weren’t necessarily onion tops.
I was excited! I threw some potatoes in a pot and turned it up to boil.
Potato Salad Nirvana
Using the new recipe as a guide and following what I remembered of yesteryear, I recreated a dish my mother would’ve been proud of. It was lustrous, creamy, not too heavily dressed, and pleasantly flavored with the addition of celery seeds and dill.
Oh, the joy! I thought of inviting my daughter over to share the discovery with me, but remembered that she’s not the potato salad fan that I am. Unlike me, she wouldn’t drive across town for a bowl of chopped potatoes slaked in mayonnaise. So I enjoyed it all to myself.
I know you can’t recreate the past. Or, as they say, “You can’t go home again.” But, doggone, I think I just got a few steps closer.
- 5-lb. Yukon Gold potatoes
- 2 cups mayonnaise (your favorite brand)
- 1 cup sweet pickle relish
- 2 Tbs. yellow mustard, or 1 part yellow + 1 part Dijon
- 1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tbs. celery seeds
- 1/2 tsp. paprika
- 4-5 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped (optional)
- 3 celery stalks, diced
- 1/2 cup sweet onion, diced
- 1 Tbs. fresh chopped dill
- Salt and pepper
- Cut potatoes into quarters and place in a large pot. Fill pot with cold water until it covers potatoes by an inch. Bring pot to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, add 1 tablespoon salt and cook potatoes for 13-15 minutes, until fork tender.
- In a medium bowl mix mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish including juices, mustard, apple cider vinegar, celery seeds, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Stir until smooth. Chop eggs, celery, onions, and dill.
- Drain cooked potatoes and remove loose skins and chop potatoes into 1/2-inch chunks. It’s okay if they are soft and crumbly. Place potatoes in a large bowl. Gently mix in dressing until it coats the potatoes well. Stir in eggs, celery, onions, and dill. Salt and pepper, as needed. Garnish with fresh dill and paprika.
- Cover potato salad and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. If you have time to make it ahead, it tastes even better on day two!
- Russet potatoes make for a creamier mixture because of their mealy, starchy texture. Yukons instill a buttery taste, while red potatoes hold their shape and are less creamy. Your choice.
- Start potatoes in cold, salted water and bring to a boil, cooking until they can be pierced easily with a knife.
- Always use real mayonnaise, Hellman’s or Duke’s.
- Add dressing mixture while potatoes are still slightly warm.
- Allow enough time for prepared salad to blend in refrigerator at least several house, or preferably, overnight.