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Passing down a family favorite

Potato salad like Mama made

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I gave my daughter a few suggestions for her birthday dinner this past weekend. I offered to cook several things, including chicken and gravy with homemade biscuits or maybe our favorite chicken pot pie — two of her favorites.

She had another idea. She wanted a hot dog dinner with Carolina Packers’ bright red wieners cooked on her daddy’s grill until they were charred — her favorite way. She made that main dish request because she wanted me to make potato salad.

I don’t make potato salad very often. We usually have it with our Easter ham and sometimes with a family hot dog dinner, like we did Saturday night.

I’m not really sure why I don’t make it more often. My husband loves it, and so does Anna.

My very basic recipe is definitely a throw-back to Mama. I watched her make potato salad many times. She made it for specific meals too, including baked ham or rutabagas and turnips. She also made it when we had hot dogs or a picnic lunch.

To make her potato salad, Mama peeled and cubed red potatoes and boiled them until they were tender. She waited to salt the potatoes after they were cooked and drained. I can remember her pulling out a little metal strainer to drain the salad cubes. And I can remember us making a special trip to the grocery store one day because she had forgotten the green bell pepper. “You have to have some bell pepper for potato salad,” she told me. I’ve always remembered that conversation around her kitchen table.

Mama and her sister both made delicious potato salad, but there was a difference. Aunt Margaret used diced onion and celery; Mama didn’t, and neither do I.

Mama never pulled out a recipe card when she made her potato salad.

She just added the warm, drained potatoes to a bowl, and gently mixed in the salad cubes, bell pepper, diced boiled eggs, mayonnaise and yellow mustard until it looked and tasted just right. She didn’t stir too much because she didn’t want the potatoes all to be mashed potatoes.

I make the same basic recipe as Mama with a few changes. Sometimes I peel the potatoes, and sometimes I don’t. I also use avocado oil mayonnaise. When I made the recipe Saturday, I wrote down measurements so Anna could have the recipe.

Mama knew how much my husband loves potato salad. Whenever she made it, she’d immediately save out some especially for Reggie and put it in the refrigerator for him to take home.

Good memories.


Lisa Boykin Batts has been writing a weekly food column since 2001. Her column includes recipes she and her family enjoy.

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