It is often the case that food equals love. My daughter turned six on Saturday; her namesake, my grandmother, passed away quickly and suddenly when my daughter was 18 months old. Although my daughter has no real memory of my grandmother, who was an incredible woman and cook, I have tried to keep her spirit alive for my daughter through food. When we cook together, my daughter wears my grandmother’s apron, and she is fully aware of its special significance. My grandmother’s cooking was synonymous with her love – no matter how big or small a group she was serving she always had a thoughtful, delicious menu planned out and was able to execute everything to perfection. She practically floated around the kitchen, and I do not remember her ever saying a cross word (unlike myself, under pressure) or even getting flustered with any potential mishap. The ultimate was always the enjoyment of the meal, sharing food and love with family and friends around the table. She is a constant reminder of the kind of person and cook that I aspire to be.
The recipe I want to be remembered for is one that my grandmother never wrote down, and the one that connects the wide-eyed, eager kitchen helper with the person I am today. This simple potato salad was one of her spot-on, amazing recipes. For a period during my teen years, when I was boycotting mayonnaise, this was the only exception. It is bright from a healthy dose of lemon juice and has been enjoyed on many a summer Sunday. It is perfect for a potluck or barbeque and goes especially well with fried chicken. I watched her make this countless times, without any formal measurements. After she passed away, I was the only one who knew how to make it, and finally figured out the measurements and wrote them down. Once I even included it at Thanksgiving, in her honor, on a holiday that she had mastered.
- Serves a crowd
3 lbs potatoes (either 12-14 small to medium red potatoes, or 4 big Yukon golds)
finely chopped sweet onion
finely chopped celery (tender stalks)
2 -21/2 tablespoons
mayonnnaise, start with 2 T adding more if necessary
¾ t plus a pinch of salt plus ¾ t plus a pinch of sugar thoroughly dissolved in ¼ cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice (Meyer lemon preferred)
Freshly ground black pepper
- Steam potatoes until tender, making sure to check the water level about half way through and adding more as necessary. When poked with a metal skewer, it should go through without resistance; start checking for doneness at about 25-30 minutes for red potatoes, 40-45 minutes for big Yukons. Transfer potatoes to a large bowl and set aside to cool. Note: For big Yukons, I steam them in a metal colander set in a large pot.
- When potatoes are cool enough to handle, using a butter knife, peel away skin and any blemishes. Discard skins. Cut red potatoes in half crosswise and then quarter each half. For Yukons, slice crosswise (1/2 inch thick) and then quarter each slice. I usually use the butter knife to coarsely cut potatoes in my hands, and then drop the potato pieces into the large cooling bowl.
- Fold in the onion and celery. Add the mayonnaise and pour about half of seasoned lemon juice on top. Thoroughly combine using a wooden spoon or spatula; the potato edges should be fuzzy (Yukons will kind of fall apart while red potatoes will hold their shape a bit better, both are delicious) and lightly dressed in a mixture of the mayonnaise and seasoned lemon juice. If they seem dry, add a bit more mayonnaise. Taste for more seasoned lemon juice and add as necessary. Sometimes I have used the full amount of juice, sometimes a little less. Finish with freshly ground black pepper to taste. Enjoy!