Posted by: deadmousediaries | July 4, 2017

News from the Path Valley Hotel: The Best-Ever Potato Salad Recipe

 Some might think I have an issue. I prefer to think I have a talent. I have the ability to press play in my brain and summon some very specific sounds from my life’s greatest hits album. I can replay little snippets at will, including the household sounds on which my childhood was built. They play so clearly in my head that I experience time travel in that moment. 

    With July’s prime picnic day already upon us, the sound I’m hearing now is my grandmother’s chopping knife on the cutting board as she diced celery for her potato salad. It’s been more than 40 years since I’ve had it on my fork but I can conjure up the taste of that summer goodness on my tongue. Her version was the perfect combination, creamy with a tiny bit of tang. The potatoes were always cubed just right and the extra celery added the perfect hint of crunch.

   It’s tough to get good potato salad away from home. When you’ve been raised on a secret family recipe, the potatoes often aren’t cooked to your desired degree of doneness or other versions are too dry. Or have too much onion. Or are too bland without that splash of vinegar in the salad dressing. There are so many things that are just plain wrong about the way someone else puts it all together.

   Knowing I will never taste Nanny’s potato salad again in this lifetime, I’ve given this a lot of thought. I’m sharing my fail-proof recipe for the best-ever potato salad with you here. It has only five extra ingredients beyond the basics.

   Starting with any prepared potato salad you can pick up from the deli counter at the grocery store add: 

1. Water.  I prefer lake water but creek, pond, river, pool, hose or sprinkler water works, too. I’m not sure about ocean water but I imagine that would be just as good. The important thing is to have it nearby and in adequate supply so your picnic goers can sit around it, dip in it, and splash, squirt or spray others with it. Substitutions for large bodies include balloons filled with it or ice cubes made from it. That makes it portable and surprise-sized for slipping down the backs of shirts of party poopers who don’t want to get wet by it.

2. Yellow. Great potato salad requires a heaping portion of yellow. Just as you would use pure vanilla extract in your best dessert recipes, I recommend using pure yellow, not imitation, in your potato salad. The preferred source is sunshine, like a kid’s finger-painting, but a bouquet of dandelions or yellow tiger lilies on the table will also work. If the weather or location demands substitution, add a yellow table cloth or napkins.

3. Warm. Warm is good when it comes to potato salad, otherwise you’re simply serving up a side dish at a winter potluck. Authentic outdoor warm is best, not artificially-cooled-to-comfortable inside warm. Tip: warm is not hot. You can tell if you have the correct setting if the salmonella-phobs at your event aren’t rushing to cover, cool and thereby hide your potato salad. That abduction of that Tupperware bowl greatly reduces the enjoyment of grazing on picnic leftovers throughout the remainder of the day.

4. Kids. My recipe calls for blending in a moderate scoop of kids. It’s difficult to provide an exact amount. Like so many recipes, measuring to your taste takes practice and is cook’s choice. My recommendation is that there are enough happy kids to provide a base of familiar summer fun but not so many that they outnumber the adults willing to calm and corral them if necessary.

5. Stories. Nearly all my best recipes call for a generous helping of stories. Stories can include memories of past picnics like the year the third child of the same family fell into the fishpond making the score three for three. You can also stir in stories that never go bad like how Uncle Sophus used to combine all the picnic leftovers in one bowl and enjoy them the next day for breakfast. Stories about previous failed potato salads are good, too, like the year the newest in-law thought it was okay to substitute mayonnaise for Miracle Whip and expect the same results. 

   In truth, you may never be able to duplicate the taste of a grandmother’s recipe but nobody else remembers it exactly as you do anyway. If you add these five ingredients to your deli counter purchase, you will get a shot at serving your own special potato salad, the best-ever kind that your family will always connect with great summer memories.  

   The Frugal Gourmet, Chef Jeff Smith, put it this way: “We eat certain things in a particular way in order to remember who we are. Why else would you eat grits in Madison, New Jersey?”         MK



  1. You make my heart smile……. I have so many memories related to food (as do many people). I specifically think of my dad and all he taught me about cooking and special times we shared

    Wishing you blessings and many more good memories.

    • Thank you for all the nice notes you’ve sent me over the years, Karin. You are among the handful of people who make the time to let me know you’re reading regularly and I am so grateful for that.

  2. I so love the way your write. A feast for the soul.

  3. Unlike some of us, you spell good, too.

    • You are two funne!!

      • Thank you, madame!

  4. I like your potato salad recipe! I just realized as I read this, that I learned to make potato salad from my mother-in-law (Sorry. She preferred mayonnaise to Miracle Whip, and so do I). But that’s a special memory for me today. Thanks for the reminder…and another great story! What a great way to think about such special memories!

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