When our friend Jeff invited us to his backyard barbecue over the Memorial Day weekend, I accepted with alacrity and asked what we could contribute to the feast. He suggested potato salad but I demurred because I didn't have a really good recipe for potato salad.
I've made plenty of attempts, believe me, but never really found one I love, despite being a fundamentalist believer in potato salad and the good it does in the world. I have tried warm ones, cold ones, vinegary ones, German ones - you name it, I've tried it; but I never made one myself that I just loved. Then, all of a sudden came a memory of the best potato salad I have ever eaten - Lois'!
Lois was a dear friend of mine when I lived in Rochester, NY. She had recently moved to Rochester from her native city of Buffalo - that may not sound like a big change but you'd be amazed at the difference between those two cities, just 70 miles apart - and she was lonely. So was I - Rochester is not an easy place to make friends. She and her handsome husband, Crane, had made overtures to some of our other neighbors but had been rebuffed. When First Husband and I moved in next door, newly arrived from California, she and I became fast friends despite a gap in age, sharing all kinds of silly and serious events in our lives. She introduced me to Buffalo; I still have a fondness for that open, friendly city thanks to her. She invited us to her little cabin in the Southern Tier of New York State and we had many fun weekends there.
Lois is a nurse in the finest tradition of nursing; she actually wore white when she worked, not like today's nurses who do a laudable job but look as if they are wearing their PJs to work. When I was deathly ill, she tended me in the hospital, gave me great advice regarding surgery ("Request the head of anesthesiology - s/he is even more important than your surgeon"), and generally treated me like a daughter when my mother couldn't be with me.
On one of those weekends at their cabin, Lois made potato salad for lunch. She claimed it was nothing special but, people, I want to tell you I actually had trouble not finishing the entire bowl, it was so good. Once I remembered that potato salad, I couldn't wait to call Lois and get the recipe. She has moved back to her beloved Buffalo to be closer to her son and daughter now that she and Crane have retired. I haven't seen her since I left Rochester but recently we reconnected through email, letters and phone calls - we talk about once a month or so, giggling and carrying on as if we were never apart.
She laughed when I asked for the recipe and said, "Oh, honey, I haven't made that in years!" but her memory of ingredients and method hadn't faded at all. Redolent of onion and sweetened with gherkin pickles, it is an amazing treat for the taste buds. If you're not a sweet pickle fan, come back tomorrow.
Lois' Potato Salad
White skin potatoes, peeled, boiled and diced fairly finely
Hardboiled eggs, diced finely
Celery, diced finely
Onion, diced finely
Sweet gherkin pickles, diced finely (but don't use pickle relish!)
Hellman's or Best Foods mayo, thinned with a little milk
Salt and Pepper
Obviously, it's the proportions of these ingredients that make the salad wonderful, but you must decide on your own proportions. I used two good-sized potatoes and two eggs, one rib of celery and half an onion, plus four pickles (gherkins are small).
It was delicious with a wonderful interplay between the bland potato and the crisp celery, the savory onion and the sweet pickle, but it wasn't as good as Lois made. I'm sure she didn't withhold any ingredients (would a nurse do that?) - must have been Lois' friendship that added to the flavor.
Labels: potato salad