I just made my last summer bowl of potato salad. I tend to regard it as a warm season dish as it brings to mind family reunions and the lingering light of a July evening. I make it once in a while throughout the winter, just to fool myself into thinking there’s not snow on the ground and zero degrees on the thermometer.
The formula for this batch was newly dug potatoes and onions, celery right out of the garden, too, fresh-from-the-chickens boiled eggs that, thank you poultry gods, peeled easily and smoothly, a little bit of this year’s zucchini relish, salt, pepper, celery seed, and a dressing of mayo, Miracle Whip, a little sugar, and a little vinegar.
Potato salad is truly a study in nuances. Everybody has his or her favorite version, starting with the most appropriate potato. I must confess I haven’t figured out yet what that is. My Aunt Edna made the best potato salad ever—she often served it in one of those big Pyrex bowls that all moms had in those days—and it graced the table for our family picnics at Colton Point and summer suppers in her dining room. Her potato options were probably limited to reds or whites from her own garden; it’s not likely she had fingerlings or Yukon golds or blues to choose from. Some potatoes hold their shape and texture better than others. You can’t always predict which ones will turn to mush in the bowl, and, anyway, there are varied preferences for potato salad consistency. I don’t know if the age of the tuber has any bearing on its ability to hold its shape or accept flavors.
And that’s the other big enigma of potato salad—the seasonings. Mayonnaise or Miracle Whip? Salt and pepper only? What about pickles? Are parsley and paprika suitable garnishes? When I worked down at Pag-Omar Farms Market outside Wellsboro, we put dill in our potato salad. An elderly lady came in one day and was contemplating a purchase. She asked me when we had made this batch, and I guess that information passed muster because then she asked me about the ingredients. When I told her about the dill she backed away from the deli case like I had sworn at her.
“Maybe some other time,” she said, heading for the door.
Like other potato salad aficionados, she probably knew what she wanted as the presenting flavor. I do, too, but I seldom know why I am successful or not. Sometimes, though, I do put dill in, and it’s very nice.