Friday, June 24, 2011

Dressed for summer in lemon and green olive.

Great-grandma Scott's potato salad. © Ryan Schierling 
This is Potato Salad. That's what it says right there on the worn recipe card. It is a simple statement. It begs no competition and it expects none either. So while the name may not proclaim it an epic offering, I am here to tell you it is quite special indeed.

I love this potato salad. As much as I now enjoy many other kinds of potato salad, this was the one of my formative years and is as much a gold standard for me as it is a deeply-held tradition for my family. It is interesting to me how one's early experience with any given food sets the stage and paints the backdrop against which one's future experience is framed. My family's potato salad is a little unique. While it may have a similar texture and consistency to most picnic-style potato salads, it doesn't contain either mustard, pickles, pickle juice or vinegar – some combination of which you typically find flavoring the local deli's offerings.

It's a simple six ingredient recipe that originated with my great-grandmother. I am told that my great-grandfather was not a fan of raw onions, or the breath it left him with afterwards, so my great-grandmother began using green olives instead. There are a few in the family, including my grandma, who do occasionally add some sliced green onions to the mix, but the recipe has remained essentially unchanged for the better part of a century. A delight of salty lemony goodness enveloping wee morsels of cubed potato and eggs.

Ask any family member accustomed to making this potato salad and you will quickly learn that there are certain things you do not deviate from in preparation: the potatoes must be cubed no larger than 1/2" in size, it is preferable that the olives be of the green variety, the lemon juice must be fresh-squeezed (don't use Meyer lemons), and there are absolutely no acceptable substitutes for regular Best Foods / Hellman's mayonnaise (not even the light version). Sorry, there are no measurements for the sauce – you "just have to know" when you've hit the perfect consistency. I am convinced that last instructive is a hallmark of all good family recipes.

Potato Salad

Red* potatoes: (1 medium potato per person) boiled, peeled, cut in small cubes
Eggs: (approx. 1 per person) hard-boiled, peeled, diced small
Green (or black) olives, sliced

Best Foods / Hellman's Real Mayonnaise
Juice of fresh lemons 
Salt to taste

Prepare potatoes and eggs ahead and cool in refrigerator. In a small bowl, stir fresh squeezed lemon juice into the mayonnaise, adding gradually until a thin sauce is achieved. (Depending upon the size of your lemons, estimate about 1-2 lemons per cup of mayonnaise.)  The sauce should be creamy, but pourable, run easily through your fork and have a good, but not overpowering, lemony tang when tasted. Salt well.

According to my grandma, it is best to mix the dressing with the other ingredients close to serving time. When picnicing, these can be stored separately and then mixed when it is time to eat. Check for seasoning again after mixing the dressing with the other ingredients. Chances are those potatoes and eggs will demand a little extra salt.

* Red potatoes are the standard and hold their shape well, but russets are also tasty and an acceptable alternate.

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