Ah, potato salad. Every woman has a to-die-for recipe, or at least that’s the claim in my circle of friends. I don’t like to make such claims because I have wandered far enough to know that people’s palates can vary from region to region and state to state. I like to make this salad for company picnics or summer cook outs, and I usually get complimented on it or asked for the recipe.
I learned this “recipe” from helping my mother make it for Saturday picnics at Ali’i Beach Park, the then future home to the TV show Baywatch. (Yep, we grew up at that beach.) My job, being the youngest girl, was to sit and grate carrots. My mom would say, to encourage my failing heart, “Carrots are just for color, you won’t have to grate too many. You’ll be done in no time.” Then she’d hand me her celery green Tupperware colander fitted with the matching green grater and a pound of carrots. Keep in mind, I am number 9 of 10, add in spouses of the older siblings and nieces and nephews and boyfriends and girlfriends; and you quickly realize we were feeding a small army. Sometimes, my courage–and stamina–would fail me and I’d sneak off to my room and lie on my bed. I’d even fall asleep sometimes, and then I would get IT.
My mother would also bring this salad to neighborhood picnics. We lived in a condo community with lots or grassy common areas beneath Silverwood pines and eucalyptus trees. We’d have tables set in the grass, laden with food, and we would have all kinds of games after lunch. I guess the games would be called “team building” games today. We did them because it was great fun and then the adults got to take a turn, too.
One sunny Saturday we celebrated Easter with the community and my mom brought her potato salad. She got many compliments and requests for the recipe and she spent almost the whole game time sharing her recipe with the other ladies. When it was time to pack and leave she walked away with her empty salad bowl in her arms chuckling to herself. Back in the apartment she told us that all the ladies wanted her recipe, and she laughed and laughed.
Well, other gatherings followed and the women would descend on my mother and say that their potato salads would never turn out like hers. They would say,”I even mixed it with my hands like you said to do!” At this my mother would put on a confused face and say she didn’t know what they were doing wrong. She finally confessed to my father and us that garlic salt is what makes her salad different. She said laughingly that she told the women to add table salt to taste and the big secret was that they had to mix the salad with their hands. We all had a good laugh. Those poor women, they never did find out from us that it was garlic salt our mother used.
I made this salad tonight for supper. I used new red potatoes, but my mom always used russets. I even used her green colander to drain the potatoes. The colander is one of only a handful of things I have of my mom’s. The grater that attaches to it has long since been lost. I shared this story with my daughter tonight while we peeled the eggs, and shared a big laugh. I miss my mom, and I hope my daughter will miss and honor me through stories and recipes one day.
Clarisa’s Potato Salad
1 boiled russet potato for every person being served, peeled
2 eggs for every potato
1 stalk of celery for every four people being served, sliced or diced
1 carrot for every four people being served, grated 🙂
Garlic salt to taste
Mayonnaise to taste (although, she always loaded it up with stuff)
The trick to having the right texture is to boil your potatoes until they are soft and start to crack. Do not over boil them or you’ll have mashed potato salad; which actually sounds good to me…? I use Martha’s method for hard-cooked eggs: cover eggs with one inch of water, bring to boil, cover, remove from heat, let sit 12 minutes, and throw in an ice water bath for 2 – 5 minutes. They come out perfect every time.
Cube the potatoes and eggs, throw everything into a bowl, salt it all, add some black pepper if desired, give it toss, and then add the mayonnaise and mix it all up–with your hands if you’d like. 😜 The salad is creamy with just the right amount of bright crunch from the celery. I happened to over salt my salad tonight; I fixed it with the juice from half a lemon. Enjoy!