Sunday, June 26, 2011

Grandma Schierling's potato salad.

Simple elegance. © Ryan Schierling
Somewhere along the line, you may have gotten the idea that family recipes are important to us. It's a great big reason this blog exists. A few years ago we even sent out emails to all of our family members asking for recipes that were tried and true from all points on the family tree. We wanted those recipes that we remembered eating and enjoying, that our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles grew up eating and enjoying.

We wanted to write a cookbook for our families. Spiral bound, or printed in issues and sent out like a magazine, with recipes and photos and stories about where they came from, how they were inspired, or who made it best. We never managed to decide on a format – every recipe seemed to demand a different scenario.

What does this have to do with this 5 days of potato salad? Or this recipe?

Well, this is one of those recipes that until now I have only heard about, but never tasted. This is Ryan's Grandma Schierling's potato salad recipe, and it is one of the most simple and fascinating potato salads I have ever heard of. Oh, yes, there have been conversations with Ryan's folks about how it was made, the variations (or lack thereof), and all exchanged in tones of reverent affection for what was "Grandma Schierling's" potato salad.

I think she would be proud that we've chosen to take it from the archives, from her exclusive possession, and introduce it into our personal repertoire. I am thrilled to have a taste of a well-loved past and the proud German farming heritage that informed it.

This is the most gratifying potato salad of those we've made this week. There's a quiet strength in simple sliced potatoes, onions and hard-boiled eggs dressed only with salt and heavy cream. There is richly-satiated nostalgia and satisfaction in the sharing.

Ryan hasn't eaten this salad in more than 20 years, but he remembers it well… well, he remembers it in the way you recall a fragrance. It is the immediate recognition of a thing familiar, the texture, the temperature, the flavors collectively. I've been hearing for weeks about this gastronomic ghost from the past – the monochrome whites, the onion whose liveliness warms against the egg and cream, the shallow bowl and gratin-like presentation. It is every bit the decadent dish of his memories.

I never got to meet Grandma Schierling, but if she was anything near as lovely, unassuming and elegant as her potato salad, I would have adored her.

Grandma Schierling's potato salad

6 medium-sized waxy white or yellow potatoes, boiled until tender and sliced
1/2 small white onion, sliced thin
3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
heavy cream
kosher salt

Boil potatoes until fork tender. Drain, let cool and slice thinly. This was probably the method Grandma Schierling originally used, but slicing the raw potatoes and then steaming them also works nicely, and makes for a pretty potato with skins intact.

Cut 1/2 of a white onion into thin rounds (or half-rounds, which are more mouth manageable) and rinse under cold water. Slice 3 hard-boiled eggs into thin rounds. In a shallow bowl, layer the salad as you would a gratin – a layer of potato, a sprinkle of salt, some onion and egg, a bit of the heavy cream. Repeat until the bowl is full. This salad is best served fresh and warm, or at room temperature.


  1. Can't go wrong with hard boiled eggs. Ever. Especially in a potato salad. These potato salad posts are some pretty awesome takes on a summer standard.

    Next time you're back up here in the promised land, you'll have to stop by for some great home cooking by the wife. She won't disappoint!

  2. Thanks Jonathan! It's been a fun week with lots of potatoes around here.

    It's been a while since we've been back to the NW, and we're never disappointed with an invitation for a home cooked meal. :)


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